If Dawn Lucien’s achievements were written on sheets of paper, they could cover the walls of the University of Washington Tacoma conference room that was dedicated in her honor three years ago, offering sweeping views of her beloved city.
Lucien, who died Saturday at age 91, never stopped dreaming large and working hard for Tacoma, dating to her stint on the city’s board of freeholders in 1956. But it was during the 1980s and ‘90s that this matriarch of downtown redevelopment really hit her stride. She refused to let the city be defined by the crime and decrepitude that had gripped its core.
Lucien pushed for a major renovation of the Pantages Theater. She campaigned to convert the ailing Union Station into a gorgeous federal courthouse. And she was a tireless visionary for the UWT campus, toiling alongside a handful of powerful Tacoma men to stimulate urban renewal in the neglected warehouse district above Pacific Avenue.
In 2014, Mayor Marilyn Strickland anointed Lucien the “grand dame of Tacoma” during a speech that dedicated UWT’s Dawn Lucien Boardroom. Lucien certainly occupies a short list of dynamic women who could vie for that title, along with Babe Lehrer, the longtime patron of the arts and local causes who died in 2015 just short of her 94th birthday.
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Theirs was the greatest generation in more ways than one. Will we see another that can match the Luciens and Lehrers in philanthropic spirit and sheer civic endurance?
A taste for politics came early to Lucien, having served as a 22-year-old delegate for Harry Truman at the Democratic convention in 1948. She was close with Washington’s almighty U.S. Senate tandem, Henry Jackson and Warren Magnuson, and with long-serving U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks. It was in her role as Dicks’ district representative that she helped craft a historic land-claims settlement with the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.
Though born in Benton County, Lucien carried a torch for Tacoma that rivaled any native’s. Her passion burned intensely, whether she was shaping policy on the Tacoma City Council or Utility Board, presiding over the City Club of Tacoma, inspiring a group that saved the Murray Morgan Bridge from demolition, or petitioning for Mount Rainier to be restored to its original name, Tacoma. (This last crusade was one of her rare lost causes.)
Her unique community stature might’ve been most on display during conclaves in her home, where Lucien served appetizers and deep conversation with a range of influential people.
One of Lucien’s favorite books was “The Fountainhead,” by Ayn Rand. The epic novel and individualist’s manifesto tells the story of a brilliant architect who bows to nobody and nothing but the city he loves.
“I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline,” says the protagonist, Howard Roark. “... When I see the city from my window — no, I don't feel how small I am — but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body.”
Substitute Tacoma for New York, and it could be a psalm describing the devotion that Dawn Lucien felt for her adopted hometown.