Art and History in Tacoma, Washington

Posted on November 6, 2013 by Holly Hayes
Part of: Four Days in Washington State

In late September, my husband David and I took a little four-day road trip to Washington State. We visited a few new places, revisited a few old favorites, and spent some quality time with my aunt who lives near Seattle. It was easy, relaxing, and fun.

One of the new places we visited was the city of Tacoma, which is about 40 minutes south of Seattle. We've both driven past it a million times but have never stopped to look around.

Honestly, I didn't expect a lot of Tacoma, as I've have only seen the not-that-impressive part visible from the freeway. But I knew they had a couple of museums, and some quick research showed a nice selection of historic buildings, so it seemed worthwhile to check it out.

Downtown Tacoma
Heading towards downtown Tacoma, shortly after leaving the I-5 freeway.

It was definitely worth the stop! We spent just a couple hours there, but there was plenty of interest to see. The downtown has a very nice selection of historic buildings, the museums seemed excellent (we didn't have time to go inside them), and there is a branch of the University of Washington right in the heart of historic downtown.

Albers Brothers Mill and 509 Bridge
The historic Albers Brothers Mill (now converted into lofts) and the 509 Bridge.

We parked in the parking lot of the State History Museum, which has some nice views across the tracks. The above photo was taken from there.

Union Station

Probably my favorite building in Tacoma was Union Station, which is one of the first buildings you see as you arrive in the city. An impressive Byzantine-style building with a large dome, it now serves as a courthouse.

View from South
Side view of Union Station.

Front Window
Front window of Union Station, with the yin-yang symbol of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Interior, looking towards the entrance.

Because it is now a courthouse, security is tight and you have to show ID at the door. But thankfully, they still allow photos as long as you don't photograph the entrance to the courthouse itself, which is in the back of the room (left of this image). I really appreciate that reasonable rule, rather than banning photography altogether. The security guard was also very nice.

Interior Looking South
View across the interior, with two glass artworks by Dale Chihuly, who was born and raised in Tacoma.

Dale Chihuly Glass
Closer look at the Chihuly chandelier.

Chihuly Chandelier
Dale Chihuly's glass sculptures can be seen around the world. The first one I can remember seeing, which is also my favorite, is this chandelier in the entrance rotunda of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. It is 30 feet long and was installed in 2000. I was so impressed when I learned that the artist was from Tacoma!

Bridge of Glass and Union Station
The Bridge of Glass and Union Station.

After Union Station, we saw many more Chihuly works by walking across the Bridge of Glass to the Museum of Glass. The bridge (erected in 2002) is all Chihuly, but the museum includes works by other artists as well.

Bridge of Glass
The "Crystal Towers" on the Bridge of Glass.

Seaform Pavilion
Detail of the "Seaform Pavilion", a structure over part of the bridge that makes you feel like you're walking under an aquarium with colorful sea life. There are 2,364 glass objects in this pavilion.

Museum Entrance
The dramatic entrance to the Museum of Glass (via elevator).

Museum of Glass
The striking architecture of the Museum of Glass itself, with the 509 Bridge in the background.

Next we poked our heads into the Washington State History Museum, which is at the other end of the Bridge of Glass next to Union Station. It looked very good. But alas, no time for a proper visit.

Washington State History Museum

Museum Entrance

Museum Lobby

After a short rest stop at Starbucks (a small but particularly nice one, joined to the university gift shop) we headed up a big outdoor staircase for a quick investigation of the University of Washington-Tacoma campus. It's a small and pretty campus, with many historic warehouse buildings put to new academic uses. The campus is part of the Union Station Historic District, which comprises all the buildings that sprung up around the train depot in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

University Vista
An arch of the Washington State History Museum, viewed from across Pacific Avenue at the base of the university stairs.

Garretson Woodruff Pratt Building
Garretson Woodruff Pratt (GWP) Building, built in 1891.

This is now a university building abbreviated MAT, for Mattress Factory. I'm sorry to say I've never had a class in a mattress factory.

Row of warehouse facades nearby.

Snoqualmie Building
This was the Snoqualmie Falls Power House, which provided hydroelectric power after its construction around 1905. It is now part of the university library.

Old Railroad Tracks
Old railroad tracks behind the Snoqualmie Building/library.

Pacific Avenue Buildings
Historic buildings along Pacific Avenue, taken at dusk on our way out.

We arrived at my aunt's house in time for a great dinner out at a Mexican restaurant. Next time: Seattle!