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City, locals, trade Tacoma history during summer neighborhood walks

Reuben McKnight, historic preservation officer for the City of Tacoma, talks about John Rogers Elementary School during an Eastside Neighborhood History Walk on Saturday. The city’s first concrete school, it was built in 1907.
Reuben McKnight, historic preservation officer for the City of Tacoma, talks about John Rogers Elementary School during an Eastside Neighborhood History Walk on Saturday. The city’s first concrete school, it was built in 1907. phaley@thenewstribune.com

There’s a lot of history behind Tacoma neighborhoods — some in official records, more in the memories of people who live there.

A series of summer history walks, organized by the city’s Historic Preservation Office, draws on both sources.

The walks started Saturday morning with a tour through part of East Tacoma that included historic schools and a striking Victorian home. The series continues in August with tours of the Proctor District and the Hilltop.

“We just thought it was a good opportunity to do some neighborhood exploration,” said Reuben McKnight, Tacoma’s historic preservation officer, as he led a group of about 30 through roughly two miles of the McKinley Hill Business District. Many were East Tacoma residents.

Sherice Thomas, who has lived in Tacoma for 20 years, said one of her favorite stops was the colorful Holgerson House at 618 E. 35th Street.

McKnight told the group that the Folk-Victorian home was built in 1890 by Norwegian immigrant Rhode Holgerson, who worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad.

East Tacoma was enjoying a building boom at the time, according to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, as railroad workers and others snapped up inexpensive land with easy access to the Tideflats. Holgerson, who is listed in city directories variously as a “carpenter” and “car repairman,” in the railroad shop, went on to become one of Tacoma’s pioneer building contractors, according to a 1941 obituary.

The city has two other walks scheduled for other parts of Tacoma, which Thomas also hoped to attend next month.

“I’m going to do the one for Hilltop and they’re also doing one in the Proctor District,” she said.

He said research for the walks came from resources such as the history of Tacoma written by early 1900s newspaperman Herbert Hunt, and from the Northwest Room at the downtown library, which chronicles the region’s history.

But locals also ad-libbed their own commentary about the several historic schools, Mottet Library, and other buildings McKnight showed the group, by pointing out some of their own favorite parts of the neighborhood during the tour. They also helped navigate at times, leading the group on shortcuts.

“It’s really for us to educate one another,” said Tacoma Councilwoman Victoria Woodards, who helped host the walk with her poodle-Shih Tzu mix, Genesis.

Lynnette Scheidt, president of the Dometop Neighborhood Alliance, a local neighborhood group, showed everyone a mural painted by two Puyallup tribal members near McKinley Park.

“Everything is walkable,” she said about the area.

Micayla Ray, who brought her 7-year-old daughter and out-of-town visitors to the tour, said it was the asides from locals that she enjoyed most.

In particular, she liked the bronze dog prints on one of the sidewalks near East Division Lane and East K Street that someone pointed out as being from 1909.

“You can look up history like when a school was built, but you can’t look up little details,” Ray said.

Woodards said she didn’t know how many people to expect, and was pleased with the turnout.

“You just hope and pray that a few people will show up,” she said. “It was a really fun thing to do on a Saturday.”

She met a couple on the walk who recently moved to East Tacoma from Portland.

Now, she said, they know their neighborhood.

If you go

▪ The Proctor tour is from noon to 1 p.m. Aug. 17, and starts at the Blue Mouse Theatre, 2611 N. Proctor St.

▪ The Hilltop walk goes from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Aug. 27, and starts at People’s Park, 900 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

For more information, visit cityoftacoma.org/HPEvents, or call (253) 591-5254.

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