The Tacoma Sun


34 Years After Stephen Cysewski’s Infamous Tacoma Walking Tour: Is Tacoma Finally Ready to Repair Itself?

By Erik Bjornson

There have been countless numbers of incredible historical photos taken of Tacoma.  However, perhaps no set better captures downtown Tacoma in a moment of time as well as Stephen Cysewski’s 1979 walking tour does during Tacoma’s arguably lowest point in it’s history.  In this year, Tacoma faced an incredible sense of despair and downtown Tacoma was nearly wholesale abandoned.





It has been written that “[d]uring this period: “Downtown Tacoma experienced a long decline through the mid-20th century. Harold Moss, later the city’s mayor, characterized late 1970s Tacoma as looking “bombed out” like “downtown Beirut” (a reference to the Lebanese Civil War that occurred at that time.) “Streets were abandoned, storefronts were abandoned… City Hall was the headstone and Union Station the footstone” on the grave of downtown.”*



Fast forward to 2013.  

Much has been improved in Tacoma since 1979, yet some of the same challenges remain including the basic look of the city, namely the streets. 

These pictures from the Stadium District a week ago in October 2013:






Last photo courtesy of the Tacoma Weekly’s Pothole Pig.

For Tacomans who have lived in the city more than 10 years, we face a big psychological challenge: we become acclimated to the blight in the city including the poor condition of the streets.  After awhile, the condition becomes normal for us as we look upon and attempt to swerve around a maze of potholes.  We vainly urge visitors to Tacoma, our friends and family, to look past the atrocious condition of the city and try to convince them how great the City of Destiny is: “No really its a great city!” we plead.

Proposition 1 would make a meaningful next step in doing our part to repair and rehabilitate the city as earlier generations of Tacomans have. It would permanently fix 3600 potholes every year and repave 510 neighborhood blocks over 5 years. It’s cost would be spread to large corporations like Walmart and many other large entities who often pay very little tax.

However, in the end, this measure is more about us as citizens of Tacoma than the measure itself and where we are as city in 2013.

Are we Tacomans ready to take the next step in the reconstruction of the City and repair itself via Proposition 1 or we still stuck in the inherited mindset of it’s 1979 era blightful near abandoned past?




*Erik Hanberg, An Exercise in Hope, Faith, Vision, and Guts, Weekly Volcano (Tacoma), December 24, 2008.


published November 1st, 2013

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 M. (Morf) Morford // Nov 1, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    I remember that era well. These photos don’t show this, but the Court C coffee house was flourishing. We had a great Tacoma Food Co-op, another wonderful natural foods store (The Sprout Shop – in the Stadium District, Shake,Shake,Shake site).
    Tacoma was in its ‘fat Elvis’ or ‘rustbelt phase’. The Tacoma Mall had sucked all the retail businesses out, the ghastly pulp mills were still giving us the ‘aroma of Tacoma’, the ASARCO smelter was spreading its toxic legacy and Tacoma was in a strange limbo/larvae stage stumbling its way to a new identity.
    We forget that Seattle (and Portland, and LA, and NY, and Detroit, and many other cities, including London) had dark and down times.
    I like the stark, seedy and yes, gritty history of Tacoma.
    We, like every city, perhaps even like every individual, are on the slow, meandering and sometimes embarrassing journey of self-discovery.
    I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • 2 Morgan Blackmore // Nov 2, 2013 at 9:22 am

    While I support prop 1 there are two factual inaccuracies I want to comment on.
    One is that there is no such thing as a permanent solution for pot holes. Water gets into gaps and cracks in the pavement which then freezes creating ever bigger cracks. All of our streets get incrementally worse with every freeze. Street repair is is an ongoing effort that will always be with us.
    Two is that the burden won’t really fall on Walmart. It’ll fall on industries which consume a lot of electricity, like Simpson which has said the increased cost will add $500,000 in annual expenses.
    But even with the rise, TPU energy costs are still among the lowest in the region.

  • 3 Erik Bjornson // Nov 2, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Thanks for the comments.

    Great insight and memory Morford. It is true that other cities had some down times in the 1960s through 1990s. Detroit and St. Louis had if far worse. However, for a west coast city, Tacoma had tougher times and more abandonment than almost any of them compared to Bellingham, Olympia, Portland, Vancouver, WA and even Everett.

    I think we all agree Morgan that there is no true permanent solutions to potholes as nothing is forever. However, I believe the terms is used her to differentiate a long term versus a short term fix.

    Also, Walmart would indeed make a very significant contribution under Prop 1 as they use a great deal of utilities such as electricity. I would not be surprised if they use 50 to 100 times the amount that the average household uses.

    In contrast, Walmart does not pay any sales tax as they only collect it from consumers. However, you are right that Simpson Paper would pay a great deal more. So be it, they use a great deal more.

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