A restored red-and-white streetcar from the defunct Rainier Valley Line rolled into the morning air for the first time in nearly half a century Saturday, departing its longtime station inside Tacoma’s Old Spaghetti Factory.
Via forklift and flatbed truck, the streetcar — despite the assertion of a “Destination: Point Defiance” sign in its front window — headed for an overnight stop in a parking lot and will soon nestle deeper into downtown. The casual Italian restaurant, a Jefferson Avenue fixture since 1971, is moving to Pacific Avenue to make way for a University of Washington Tacoma expansion.
First out the door, before a crowd of 15 sidewalk observers, was the old trolley car, painted “Tacoma Power & Co.,” that housed six tables, seating for 18 and browned-butter-and-mizithra-cheese dinners for generations of Tacomans.
Bob Martin, Old Spaghetti Factory’s vice president for development, clutched his jaw in his hand as he watched the trolley car sway gently atop a forklift Saturday morning. The restaurant chain uses a trolley-shaped seating area as a signature feature of each dining room, but its expansion long ago outstripped the available supply of abandoned streetcars. Go into newer-built Old Spaghetti Factory restaurants in Lynnwood or South Center and you’ll find tables and chairs inside a facsimile trolley, built in pieces and assembled in the restaurant.
Tacoma’s restaurant opened in July 1971 with the same streetcar inside that moved out Saturday. It had been a farmer’s storage cabin, rusting on an island in the Green River near Black Diamond, according to old news stories, when the restaurant owners bought it to serve as the centerpiece of their fifth location.
“We found ’em in the ’70s. We don’t find ’em now,” Martin said.
Old Spaghetti Factory, whose website now lists 42 locations from Ohio to Hawaii, had moved trolley cars only twice before, Martin said. The first time was in 1984, when its original Portland location moved, followed in about 2006, to accommodate a redesign of its San Diego restaurant.
A five-man crew from Fife hauling company Omega Morgan handled the job Saturday, hustling in and out of the dining room, with tables and wingback chairs crowded aside.
The work started around midnight: first moving furniture out of the way to clear a path, then removing much of the front wall of one side of the building, previously home of the Tacoma Biscuit and Candy Company and an office-supply warehouse. Windows came out and walls were disassembled. The trolley car, which lost its undercarriage before the restaurant bought it, was put on rollers to roll again on temporary tracks. Martin and other workers shoveled the gravel that had been under the trolley since 1971 into a wheelbarrow.
At 9 a.m., the trolley car began to emerge from the restaurant. A little before 11, all 30 feet and 7,000 pounds of the streetcar came to rest, exactly as envisioned, on the open bed of a cargo truck. Just as was the case in the restaurant dining room, about half the trolley’s probably-not-original windows remained in place, including the back glass with a slightly-scratched 213 still painted on it.
Martin relaxed a little, clapped his hands and saluted the work crew’s supervisor, Bob Woloshyn.
Martin declined to give the cost of the work.
“It was expensive. I’d rather not say, but it was worth it,” he said. “It would have been cheaper for us to have built a new one, but we felt it was important to our move.”
Out along the sidewalk, onlookers talked about the restaurant, from relatives who had worked there to anniversary dinners in the streetcar, office parties that took it over and children they had carried in from infancy to adulthood.
“My daughter loves this place,” said Ron Swallow, 64, who works at Bates College. “She comes home from college, and this is where we go.”
As the streetcar was hoisted into the air, most of the crowd held up their cellphones to capture pictures of the event.
“There’s no manual for moving an old antique trolley,” said Chris Johnson, 44, of Tacoma. “It’s fun to watch artists.”
While the hauling crew secured the trolley to the truck for its overnight stay in a parking lot, Old Spaghetti Factory’s regular staff turned back to their tasks of getting the restaurant – part of it, anyway – open to serve the lunch crowd, with the full dining space to be back in business before the end of the weekend. The Jefferson Avenue location will remain open into January, Martin said. Then it’ll be closed for “five or six days” to make the move to Pacific Avenue and get up to full dinner speed.
“It doesn’t make any sense to close down,” Martin said. “Then it gets really expensive.”
Restaurant officials said one original feature of the restaurant won’t be restored to Pacific Avenue in the move. The Old Spaghetti Factory opened with a 24-foot oak bar salvaged from the Savoy Hotel, which stood on Pacific for 75 years. A 1999 News Tribune story says the antique bar had been moved to a then-new, now-closed Old Spaghetti Factory outpost in Henderson, Nevada, outside Las Vegas.
Martin and Old Spaghetti Factory spokesman Ryan Durrett both said they didn’t know where the Savoy bar had gone, or whether Old Spaghetti Factory still has it somewhere in storage. Their restaurant’s old building in Nevada is now a splashier operation called Sauce. The building was empty and without Tacoma’s bar when Sauce took over, according to its current owner.
“It’s definitely not here,” Sauce owner Rich Tyson said by phone from Nevada.