Tacoma probably didn’t need any more hype.
In a city long-desperate for it, the scheduled opening of the McMenamins Tacoma Elks Temple on April 24 feels like both the realization of a dream and the culmination of more than a decade of historic preservation and tireless civic boosterism.
Still, this didn’t stop the players behind the multi-million dollar renovation project from whipping up just a little bit more of it last week. On Wednesday, Brian and Dan McMenamin — the aging hippies turned civic saviors — handed out precautionary hardhats and took members of the press on a guided tour.
As The News Tribune’s Debbie Cockrell detailed, there was plenty of sawdust, an array of original art and ballroom murals and nearly too many bars to count. All of it was very exciting.
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There was also an unveiling of sorts, which — given everything else the gathered gaggle of press got a glimpse of — went somewhat unreported and certainly under-appreciated.
As we’ve known for some time, the McMenamins Elks Temple will feature 45 hotel guest rooms. What we didn’t know — at least explicitly — is that all 45 will be named in honor of notable individuals from the past.
Here’s where my unbecoming cynicism rears its ugly head. “Notable” is perhaps a kind way of putting it, because — dear reader — some of the names on the list are verifiable head-scratchers.
Krist Novoselic — the Nirvana bassist who, according to the lengthy handout distributed to press types last week “lived and performed in Tacoma during the band’s infancy, including the first time the group played as Nirvana in March 1988” — gets a room. Fair enough, I suppose.
So does blues icon Robert Cray, jazz man Red Kelly — whose long-lost Tacoma Avenue joint is still the stuff of legend — and Ronald Zimmerman, the temple’s former owner, who long harbored grand revitalization dreams that, alas, never came to fruition.
Hard to argue with any of them. The same goes for former Mayor Bill Baarsma, who helped lead the original historic preservation charge from City Hall; artist Peggy Strong, one of the best-known regional artists of the 20th Century and paralyzed from the waist down; and George Putnam Riley, an African American leader who, in 1869, was part of a successful effort to purchase 67 acres of land in the City of Destiny known as the Alliance Addition.
There are others on the list. Among them, plenty of folks with ties to the Tacoma Elks who you’ve probably never heard of (fine, I guess), a development liaison with the city (OK, whatever), a handful of middling politicians (super boring, let’s be honest) and the brother of a U.S. President (not Roger Clinton).
So who should have had a room named after them? I’m glad you asked!
I pondered the question and also put it to a number of respected sources. Here are five of the more interesting ideas:
▪ Rebecca Carr Staley: You probably recognize the name, and for good reason. Rebecca Carr Staley was married to Job, and as local historian Michael Sullivan put it, became “mother to the city’s first family.”
But wait, there’s more!
After divorcing Job Carr, Rebecca Carr Staley went on to become an activist in women’s suffrage and abolition. She also became a champion for clairvoyance, and, after her second husband died, returned to Tacoma to make a living “telling fortunes, raising cats and selling herbal remedies,” according to Sullivan.
Now there’s a room I’d pay to stay in!
▪ Mr. Jonas Stanup: One of the 45 rooms in the new McMenamins Elks Temple will be named after the Puyallup Tribe. Literally — it will be called “Puyallup People.”
It’s not the only room to be named after a Native American, but it does feel like a bit of a catchall.
As the McMenamins’ press release noted, “The Puyallups have lived along the shores of Puget Sound for thousands of years,” so it seems only right to add a few more names from the tribe to the list.
That’s where Stanup comes in.
Stanup, as Sullivan recalled, lived his entire life along the banks of Commencement Bay and was here when Thomas Jefferson dispatched Lewis and Clark and when the First American Exploring expedition showed up under the command of Lt. Charles Wilkes.
Stanup also sat with the other tribal treaty signers at Medicine Creek in December 1854.
“Jonas Stanup was born in 1803 and lived until 1897, witnessing not only most of the 19th century but literally seeing the city of Tacoma come into being,” Sullivan said. “Next time there is a reference to our part of the world as being new or without a long history, think of Jonas Stanup, a citizen of our fair city who lived here for more than 90 years without ever seeing an automobile, an airplane, a movie or even the 20th century. Ah, but the things he did see …”
▪ Earl Anthony: Tacoma has given rise to many famous athletes over the years, but few, if any, have reached the pinnacle of his or her sport the way Earl Anthony did.
A left-handed bowler, Anthony is one of the most prolific and successful members of the Professional Bowling Association Hall of Fame. His 2001 obituary in The New York Times described Anthony — whose baseball career was derailed by injury — as “professional bowling’s No. 1 title-winner and its first $1 million man.”
Anthony won 41 titles on the regular Professional Bowlers Association Tour and later added seven more titles on the Senior Tour.
Sadly, there is no bowling alley at the new McMenamins Elks Temple.
▪ Girl Trouble: The McMenamins picked plenty of musicians to honor at the new Elks Temple. They could have added a few more, like The Sonics, Seaweed or Neko Case.
But — as Case and Seaweed would likely tell you — there’s probably never been a more Tacoma band than Girl Trouble, which will celebrate its 35th anniversary this month.
True story: When the famed Seattle label Sub Pop celebrated its 20th anniversary with a show at Marymoor Park in 2008, Girl Trouble was there.
Despite the fact that the band’s 1988 release, “Hit It or Quit It”, was the first full-length Sup Pop ever released, the band wasn’t actually invited to play the show. The Tacoma band was snubbed.
So Girl Trouble crashed the gig and played just outside the gates.
Speaking of Girl Trouble, while we’re at it we should probably give a room to one of the cigarette-smoking chimps from the Java Jive.
▪ Dan Voelpel: As much as I’m adverse to the idea of giving former News Tribune columnists credit — like, for instance, some guy named Callaghan who actually gave me this idea — there’s no way former TNT business columnist Dan Voelpel shouldn’t have a room named after him at the new McMenamins Elks Temple.
It was Voelpel, after all, who first started beating what likely felt like a lonely drum for McMenamins to invest in Tacoma way back in 2003. That was the year he wrote an open letter to the McMenamins, pointing out just what an opportunity there was to be had here. (I’d link to it, but I’m pretty sure it was pre-internet.)
It was the start of a long, long process (as we all know) that even involved Voelpel and Sullivan giving the McMenamins their first tour of the Elks Temple.
The rest, as they say, is history.