More than 100 years of outdoor fun

June 29, 2005 

Point Defiance has hosted a variety of civic festivals and events over the years – some long forgotten, some still going strong. Here’s a sampler:

Band concerts: By 1899, the park boasted a concert garden, including a band shell built in 1901, that hosted musical performances on Sundays throughout the summer, according to Metro Parks’ history of Point Defiance. The tradition continued at least into the 1930s. This year, on Aug. 13, the Tacoma Concert Band will perform, allowing visitors to relive the magic of the early days.

Water carnivals: The Young Men’s Business Club of Tacoma organized waterfront extravaganzas in the late 1930s and early ’40s. Festivities included boat races, military demonstrations, fire boat displays, water skiing and “bathing beauty” contests. Photos from the era show thousands of spectators packing the shoreline for the events.

Salmon bakes: Point Defiance’s waterfront was one of many places over the years to host salmon bakes in the Native American tradition. The weekly summer feasts at Owen Beach drew visitors from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and continued sporadically into the 1990s. Enthusiasts are using this year’s centennial to revisit the tradition: A salmon bake is scheduled for July 16 at Owen Beach.

Gardeners’ Paradise: Each spring from 1958 until 1974, upwards of 50,000 Northwest green thumbs descended on the Point for a huge outdoor garden show. The event turned the park into a sea of color, with displays by garden clubs, how-to demonstrations and live entertainment. Garden groups came together this year to inaugurate the Point Defiance Flower & Garden Show, which attracted about 9,500 and broke even. Buoyed by the early success, organizers hope an outdoor garden show will again become an annual event.

Sound to Narrows: In the footsteps of San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers, the 12-kilometer run got its start in 1973, with about 300 diehards who gathered for a race starting from the Boathouse and ending at Vassault Park. Over the years, the race mushroomed in popularity, changed course to start and end at Vassault, and added a 5-kilometer run and related events. This month’s event attracted some 6,900 runners, walkers and volunteers, and raised $250,000 for stroke awareness programs.

Taste of Tacoma: Hundreds of thousands of people show up at the Point every year to welcome summer and get a sampling of local restaurants’ best. Modeled after successful events in Seattle and other cities, the Taste started in 1986 and quickly became an Independence Day weekend favorite. Recently, it’s been moved up a week.

Zoolights: In 1988, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium opened its holiday outdoor program depicting zoo animals and other scenes in colorful Christmas lights. It is one of the zoo’s biggest draws, bringing in about 80,000 to 100,000 visitors each year.

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