The Tacoma Sun


Over Tacoma Then & Now: Old Town Dock

By Morgan Alexander

In this series, 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 Now & Then column in the Seattle Times, and using the newly added Aerial Photography layer of the City of Tacoma’s govME mapping website, we take a look at a few different landmarks and neighborhoods to see how land use decisions have impacted our built environment.

This week: Old Town Dock
A familiar landmark to generations of Tacoman’s, the Johnny’s Ocean Fish Co. at the Old Town Dock closed earlier this year after Johnny’s was purchased by the nations’ largest seafood company, Pacific Seafood. The retail store is set to re-open this week and will be operated by Tacoma-based Northern Fish Company. New refrigerated display cases will feature fresh caught seafood and prepared food.


In this 1931 photograph, we see Tacoma during its heyday of being a significant lumber town. The waterfront is dominated by lumber mills with the only automobile access via McCarver Street – Schuster Parkway would not be built for another 40 years.


By 1950, the shift from lumber mills to retail starts to becomes visible. Gone are the log booms from the previous 70 years. The Ocean Dock seafood shop immediately next to the Old Town Dock and Top of the Ocean restaurant are operating. “The Top,” as it was affectionately called by Tacoman’s, was built by boat builders using traditional boat building techniques, but was never designed to actually float. The Top became the victim of an arsonists’ match in 1977.


By the time this photo was created 1973, Tacoma’s lumber past was on its last legs. Decades of consolidations and buy-outs by have taken their toll. But as one door closes, another one opens. The conversion of an industrial waterfront to a retail one continues as we see the construction of a parking lot and restaurant constructed to the west (left) of the Top of the Ocean building.


In the most recent aerial photo, The Top is gone, being replaced by a walking path and just recently a sculpture in memory of the old Top restaurant – complete with a miniaturized burned out fuel container as was found at the arson scene. Other changes: a floating dock has been added to the Old Town Dock; the restaurant to the west of the Top of the Ocean site has been replaced with a hotel (most likely, one of the few in the country where visitors will find a pair of ear-plugs next to the Gideon’s bible); and Schuster Parkway now connects Ruston Way and Old Town with a fast way to escape the city.

published April 29th, 2008

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Andrew Austin // Apr 29, 2008 at 10:15 am

    Have you seen the new construction of a new park? going in further south of this sight. Do you know anything about it? Looks exciting.

  • 2 jim // Aug 24, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    The new park to the south east is the Tacoma Chinese Reconciliation Park Project.

    It is open now – please take a look and let me know what you think



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