After of century of change, both Tacoma and its premier park have reached a sometimes uneasy maturity.
The park grew to its present size with the addition of 42 acres in the southwest corner, although that land remains undeveloped.
The biggest physical changes were under way at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. While the zoo faced funding and leadership crises, local taxpayers expressed their support for the beloved institution through bond measures passed in 1977, 1986 and 1999. The zoo narrowed its focus to animals and ecosystems of the Pacific Rim, but expanded its ambition, most recently with the opening of the $10 million Asian Forest Sanctuary.
In contrast to the rapid expansion of earlier eras, much of the improvement focused on preserving the existing park. The Lodge and the Pagoda were restored to their original grandeur, and waterfront buildings rebuilt after an arson fire in 1984. The century-old Rose Garden got a makeover, while enthusiasts of other species cultivated their own showcase gardens.
Perhaps reflecting changes in the outside world, conflict and safety concerns grew. Cruisers and loud music invaded the park’s serenity. A young girl was found murdered in the park in 1986.
New community events emerged, including the annual Sound to Narrows race and the Taste of Tacoma. As ever, the park remains a place of everyday leisure and escape.