The Tacoma Sun


Over Tacoma Then & Now: ASARCO/Point Ruston

By Morgan Alexander

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.

This week:
ASARCO/Point Ruston

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.

published March 7th, 2008

15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 RR Anderson // Mar 7, 2008 at 10:11 am

    very interesting! The links to the mansions are broken. You might try linking directly to the image in the library database..

    from firefox right-click on the image and select “Copy Image Source”

    that way you can bypass the cumbersome catalog search machinery (which i believe is reliant on session ID or something).

  • 2 Morgan Alexander // Mar 7, 2008 at 10:48 am

    Thanks RR- it’s funny the library wouldn’t make their database more user friendly!

  • 3 RR Anderson // Mar 7, 2008 at 11:39 am

    Even so, great post. I love the history of Tacoma.

    I like getting those “Ah ha! So that’s what that place was all about!” moments

  • 4 Erik Hanberg // Mar 7, 2008 at 11:49 am

    It is a cool way to look at it. Well done fellas.

  • 5 Andrew // Mar 7, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    It is going to be wild to look back at these photos 20 years from now when the land is full of parks, condos, houses, mixed use…etc.

  • 6 Sarah H. // Mar 26, 2008 at 10:24 am

    Anything that mentions the Rust house is of interest to me!
    Now if only someone would persuade the current owner to let the Historical Society include it on the Homes Tour, I would be in heaven. I’ve only seen 2 dark black and white photos of the inside.
    Does anyone have details or info??

  • 7 Morgan Alexander // Mar 26, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    Sarah- The Rust House or the Rust Mansion?

  • 8 Sarah H. // Mar 28, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    The Rust Mansion on I Street. Sorry I wasnt specific there. Any info?

  • 9 Morgan Alexander // Mar 29, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    I’ve heard second hand about some of the interior details, which sounds amazing. As I understand it, the owners prefer their privacy. I wonder if they would be open to a virtual tour…

  • 10 Oleg // Jul 22, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    You guys should check this out.

  • 11 Joe F. // Jul 24, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    I don’t see what that has to do with aerial views and the history of ASARCO. Off topic for sure… are you pushing some sort of agenda?

  • 12 teddyhcraig // Aug 16, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    I remember when I was working there, several years ago, and the difference between how it looked then and how it looks today is just amazing. I am very interested to see how it will look once they have everything in place in a couple of years.

    However, if the above video is right, and they have a bunch of people who can’t speak English and don’t understand what they are doing setting foundations; then, I would not want to live there! Nothing against the workers personally, but, I think that people that work on that site should be trained and do the job so that the buildings remain in an upright position! I’m just picky that way.

  • 13 udoka // Nov 8, 2008 at 6:01 am

    i want to know what happened to the EPA report of 1983 where the people were given a chance to air their view. curious bout what the people agreed on actually.its part of my research work and i’ll be interested in getting answers… thanks

Leave a Comment