Stadium grads bear special badge

September 9, 2006 

Don’t listen to him. He went to school in a stadium.”

At least once a week for the three years I worked on the University of Washington Daily during college, Phil the printer would drop this line while laying out the paper.

He’d then wait a few seconds before asking: “What did you do when it rained?”

It was kind of funny … the first time. Turns out he’d used the line for years, on whichever students had made their way to The Daily via Stadium High School. We were identified by our connection with something most people in college aren’t identified with: where we went to high school.

Fellow students didn’t know much about me, but they’d heard of Stadium; some because of Phil, some after a quick description of that building in Tacoma that looks like a castle, some because of the less-than-affectionate nickname StayDumband High.

I had no idea when I went to Stadium in the mid-’70s that it was something special. Sure, we thought it was kind of cool, but we didn’t dwell on the history or the stories or the rarity of, well, going to school in a Stadium. Adolescent angst leaves little room for the sweep of history.

That changed the first time I brought friends to town and perched them on the lip of the bowl and listened to them gush.

Now I divide the world into two groups – those who went to Stadium and those who wish they had. Even the latter are likely to develop some tie to the castle – to have a kid or an in-law or a parent or a grandparent who went to Stadium.

Those who went and those who didn’t have a lot in common. Both include it in their tours. Both have consistently voted to protect and preserve it. And why not? It is one of the architectural icons of Tacoma (not Seattle despite what Disney claimed in “10 Things I Hate About You.”). And it tells the stories of a century; our stories.

It was built in the burned-out shell of what was to have been (but never was) a hotel, abandoned during one of our many economic busts. It was saved by overcrowding at what passed for a high school and a desire to keep the ruins from being carted off brick by brick by the railroad.

Grown-up towns need grown-up schools, and this one was going to be grand, coming just as the concept of universal education was taking hold.

It was called Tacoma High School when it was the only high school. It was the melting pot where old money and immigrants mixed; where sons of bankers and daughters of millworkers sat side by side; where the Norwegians and the Croatians and the Italians and the Swedes and the Irish and the English met for the first time.

Later African Americans and Asians and Hispanics would flow into the mix, all attempting to prove what former Gov. Gary Locke always said, that education is the great equalizer.

The school has a family tree of sorts, with some tribes having two, three, four or more generations as alums. I am on the shorter end of such legacies, having daughters attending the same school I did 31 years ago.

In the early years, the castle was less a source of pride than the hole in the ground next door that was graded and lined with seating, becoming Tacoma Stadium in 1910. When Lincoln was added in 1914 and the castle needed a new name, it became what might be the only place in the nation where the school building is named for the stadium and not the other way around.

It was subdivided several times as the population grew, sending off hundreds of students to colonize Lincoln in 1914, Wilson in 1958, Mount Tahoma in 1961 and Foss in 1973. Each time, it created rivalries, taken seriously as only sibling rivalries can.

And as it reopens for its 100th birthday after yet another renovation, it deserves the celebration we’ll throw for it and the stories we’ll tell.

Oh yeah, Phil, and when it rained, it was no big deal. We just got a little wet.

Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657

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