Andrew Cox was just trying to dodge writing a term paper when he started tinkering with historic Tacoma photographs earlier this year.
The 26-year-old student at the University of Washington Tacoma didn’t feel like doing a research paper as his final project for a Tacoma history class. So he asked his UWT professor if he could juxtapose old and new photos of buildings in downtown Tacoma instead.
Three months after Cox’s project earned him an A, the series of images — called “Recaptured City” — is getting noticed by a wider audience.
The Tacoma Art Museum plans to feature his work at an architectural lecture in October, while Cox’s “Recaptured City” Facebook page has attracted more than 750 followers.
Using photo-editing software, Cox merges historic photographs of landmark Tacoma buildings with images of how they appear today.
On Facebook, the project is billed as “an assault on the barricade of our cultural forgetfulness.”
“I feel really excited about this project mostly because it just brings everybody together, and just creates conversation and gets people talking about Tacoma,” said Cox, an information technology and systems major who also is the photo editor at UWT’s student newspaper.
“It just kind of brings history to life for a lot of people,” said the Puyallup resident and Rogers High School alumnus.
Cox pulls images of locations in Tacoma from the Tacoma Public Library archives, then goes and finds the same spots and shoots photos of how they look today. Then he stitches them together.
One image shows a central part of the UWT campus — the former Davis Smith & Co. building — as a fire burned there on Feb. 24, 1908. The gray smoke from the black-and-white photo billows across an adjoining image of the modern-day campus, with its sidewalks and shrubs shown in full color.
Another picture shows the Perkins Building, located at 11th and A streets downtown, on Nov. 11, 1918 – the day Germany signed an agreement with the Allies to end the fighting of World War I. On that day, the eight-story Perkins Building was draped with an equally tall American flag.
In Cox’s rendition, the building with its celebratory flag is shown adjacent to an image of 11th Street as it appears today.
The building is where the first UWT classes were held in 1990.
Michael Sullivan, an architectural consultant and historian who teaches UWT’s history of Tacoma class, said he was impressed with Cox’s final project. One image that Sullivan posted on his personal Facebook page garnered so many positive comments that Cox and Sullivan decided to make more.
Kara Bonavia, the public programs and volunteer coordinator at the Tacoma Art Museum, was one of the people who took notice.
“I took a look at his Facebook page and it blew me away,” Bonavia said. “It was a great inspiration.”
Bonavia has arranged for Cox’s “Recaptured City” images to accompany a lecture on Northwest architecture at the art museum on Oct. 17. Sullivan will be the speaker, while Cox’s images will accompany the lecture as a slideshow, Bonavia said.
Cox said he owes much of the project’s success to Sullivan and his friend Joe Keller, an incoming Tacoma Community College student who helps Cox blend current photos with the historic shots using modern-day equipment.
Cox, who has two years of school to go, said he plans to continue producing more “Recaptured City” photos of Tacoma for the project’s new website. He hopes to make them into a coffee table book one day.
He said he also plans to work with historic images of other cities, such as Olympia and Bellingham. His website already includes blended historic-contemporary images from King Street Station in Seattle.
“I think this has a high probability or potential to bring in more people,” Cox said. “I’m just kind of excited to see where it goes.”
TO SEE MORE IMAGES
For images on the Recaptured City website, go to: www.recapturedcity.com.
For images on the project’s Facebook page, go to: facebook.com/recapturedcity.Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209