In this new feature, the Sun explores the city from a thousand feet off the ground. Drawing inspiration from a combination of the cheesy public television “Over..” series and Paul Dorpat’s long running Now & Then column in the Seattle Times, and using the newly added Aerial Photography layer of the City of Tacoma’s award winning govME mapping website, we will be looking at how land use decisions over the years have impacted our built environment – for better and worse.
Rumored to have once been an ancient Indian burial ground, the site was selected by a well known capitalist from St. Paul, Dennis Ryan, to start the Ryan Smelter in 1888 at a cost of over $200,000. A couple years later, William Rust took over the company from the cash strapped Ryan and changed the name to the Tacoma Smelting & Refining Company. Rust focused on modernizing the plant and within a few years had gotten the attention of the Guggenheim family, partners in the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO).
Rust ended up selling the business to ASARCO for $5.5 million, a tidy sum even now. As a bonus in the sale, Rust received a payment which he used to build his “I” Street mansion for his wife. His wife thought the house was too large so he built a more “modest” house on Yakima Avenue. But that’s a another story.
As seen in this 1931 photograph, the entire “campus” has been built out and a thriving industry is in full swing. The 571 foot smokestack is near the center of the photo. At the time of its construction in 1917, the smokestack was the tallest in the world.
By 1950, the shoreline had been filled in and extended out into the bay to provide additional warehouse and work yard space. Originally built to produce lead, the smelter eventually dropped lead production to become a major supplier of copper. Sulfuric acid was also produced in high quantity.
This 1973 photo shows very little change over the previous 23 year period, save for the addition of a few more shoreline facilities.
This 2006 aerial reveals a greatly altered landscape. By 1983, it had become an EPA designated Superfund site and in 1985 the plant was permanently closed. The smelter was imploded in 1993 and remediation work followed. Today, it is the site for a planned community called Point Ruston.