The Tacoma Sun


Tacoma’s Changing Hilltop

By Morgan Alexander

“Be careful what you wish for,” as the old adage goes, “because you may just get it.” For years now, people have been talking about how Hilltop is going to be the next “Big Thing.” It only makes sense due to it’s relative affordability and proximity to downtown. While much work remains to be done – the low level of retail activity continues to be a challenge – there are several noteworthy developments underway.

This retail strip project at the corner of South 19th & MLK is a long time coming. A former gas station site, it sat vacant for years before the current project started.

On the 1200 block of MLK, Allen Renaissance Incorporated, a local non-profit organization, is renovating the historic Valhalla Hall. Planned uses for the building include a cafe, restaurant, children’s arts and culture center, a youth robotics lab(!), and a performance venue for receptions and community events.

The much anticipated project by the MLK Housing Authority got a kick start this year when several buildings were demolished. Here, a long covered window becomes exposed when an adjacent warehouse is torn down between South 10th and 11th on J Street.

Next door to the MLK Housing site, the Monsoon Room braces for construction.

View of the future MLK Housing apartment building. Looking south at the corner of South 10th and J Street.

Located on South 9th just up from Yakima Avenue, this new condo/apartment building stakes the claim as being on the tallest project of its kind under construction.

A long neglected First Swedish Baptist Church at South 12th and J Street got a make-over in 2006 and is now home to the MLK Ballet.

Meanwhile, half a block away, sits this amazing example Tacoma’s historic past.

A row of “great old dames” along J Street near South 7th showcases a rare example of old Tacoma. So unique is the series of in-tact restored Victorian homes that they received designation as a historic district.

Not much has changed at the Johnson Candy store with its vintage neon sign. A Hilltop fixture for generations, the building could be eligible for historic status and follow the recent addition to the historic register of Frisko Freeze.

After many years of using the right half of their building for storage, Le Le restaurant expanded their restaurant to add reception capacity. With the removal of coverings over the windows, this section of MLK is starting to look like a functional business district.

Adjacent to Le Le and adding to the revival of MLK, this renovated storefront is home to a copy center and martial arts studio.

At 6th and J Street, Prium is wrapping up a mixed-use project.

A before view of the same site showing a building that had been vacant for too long.

Multicare’s new steam plant, under construction directly across the street from historic Wright Park. Loose zoning by the city has raised concerns about uses incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood.

The vintage brick Frances Hall Apartments, a recent acquisition by Multicare, overlooks the new steam plant.

Detail showing rosette window above an arched entryway.

Detail showing a cast concrete or possibly a carved sandstone facade decoration.

The last three houses on I Street stand in the shadow of Multicare. Though modified over the years, the earliest ones – the two on the right – date from the 1895. The one on the left was built in 1908. Multicare picked up the one on the far right when it bought the Frances Hall Apartments next door.

This tattered Queen Anne house looks across 6th Ave at Multicare and wonders what its future holds.

published August 4th, 2008

22 responses so far ↓

  • 1 intacoma // Aug 4, 2008 at 7:31 am

    what no mention of the park takeover in peoples park yesterday?

    Aug 3 Hiphop in Park 2008 – from 253 hiphop on Vimeo.

  • 2 Phil // Aug 4, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Great photos, Morgan!

  • 3 TacomAroma // Aug 4, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    The “tattered Queen Anne” is so rad…I hope it gets some TLC before it blows away!

  • 4 Morgan Alexander // Aug 5, 2008 at 10:19 pm


    I drove by that tattered Queen Anne and noticed an upper floor window is either being replaced or was smashed out. Curious about the ownership, I looked it up when I got home. My heart sank when I saw the name: Paul Post. He’s one of the most notorious slumlords and has been involved with a lawsuit by the city forever. I understand it is now being heard in the state’s supreme court. I just hope the house can outlast him or the lawsuit.

    By the way, the house was constructed in 1892 and is one of the older homes I’ve seen in the area.

  • 5 Rachel // Feb 19, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Those are some great photos! Please add one of the Hilltop condo development 27th Street Station, it’s gorgeous!

  • 6 Andrea // Sep 3, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Great photos! I grew up on So Sheridan, in a house owned by Paul Post! I was driving through the old neighborhood last year and was surprised to see Mr. Post’s old bread truck still on the road! I am most pleased, though, to see the whole area being cleaned up and finally shedding its infamous notoriety! I always loved Hilltop’s diversity, and its charm and mix of architecture will hopefully help it endure and prosper.

  • 7 george blair // Sep 25, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    I am a former resident( 91-97).Nothing but good memories.Will be there for christmas.I have a daughter name taejanae blair.

  • 8 jessica // Sep 30, 2009 at 1:54 am

    former resident of s9th and grant. LOVED it there! moved over to a so-called “nicer” part of tacoma, northeast. HATE it. we’re putting an offer on an 1890’s gorgeous house on 7th and s m despite ignorant family wishes to stay away! can’t wait to move back to the “ghetto” hill!

  • 9 Jeanie Peterson // Oct 23, 2009 at 11:41 am

    I agree Morgan, what an amazing area many of us live in, such a rich history, I’ve been on one of the many historic tours that different groups do in this area, and though I’d walked the same streets all the time before I had little idea of what I was walking ‘past’. Now I look with more pride and humility at what stands before me. Everyday we feel better and better about Hilltop, and though it has it’s own turbulent history, that’s not untrue of most of Tacoma at one time or another. History is what we’ll be, and what we fought for here, whether it’s our homes (places to live) or our homes (the character that timely craftsmen put into bare wood/mortar, etc) we will all be a piece of what’s left when we’re gone.

  • 10 Bev Ceccanti // Jan 1, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    I’m just now building my website. I sold two homes in Hilltop (I’m a Real Estate Agent) in ’09 and had one listing sell there. I LOVE Hilltop. The activity there is exciting and so are the homes, the proximity to Downtown and 6th Ave BOTH and everything that goes with it… Wright Park, the UW, the Main Library, museums, including Chihuly Glass Exhibit, theatre, MLK Ballet, wonderful restaurants, access to quick, easy bus transportation if you don’t want to walk ( one could live fairly well without a car at all… how free is THAT?) One can catch the Sounder train after a FEW MINUTES on the bus. Imagine what this means to people growing older, envisioning the possibility of being unable to drive.
    There’s so much more to say…but I have to leave my comment at this for now.
    I came across this website because I’m looking for history, etc for my website. I’m just getting started. Hilltop is my clear favorite area but I see real estate agents don’t refer to it as ‘Hilltop’ . I moved away from Tacoma years ago and came back to stay with Mom after my husband died in ’04. I got back into selling homes a couple years ago after renting out my cottage in Burien. ( Burien has also ‘come of age’because one doesn’t need a car there, either.. and perhaps this is why I see the ‘handwriting on the wall’ for Hilltop.) I’m looking for fun history, pictures, etc for my website and would appreciate anyone who has anything to e-mail me. Thanks, Bev

  • 11 Bev Ceccanti // Jan 1, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Did I not leave my e-mail? It is My web site is BevLovesRealEstate.Com

  • 12 Sara // Mar 2, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    My name is Sara and I am a senior student of Sociology at the University of Puget Sound. I am doing my senior thesis project on Hilltop and it’s development over the years. It is a two-part study of urban development and gentrification in Hilltop. The first piece is a historic overview of development in the neighborhood since the beginning of the 20th century.

    The second piece will be an study of the community and its members through the collection of oral histories. The interviews should give voice to the community and tell the stories of how residents feel about the developments.

    If you live or work in Hilltop and would like to talk to me about your experience, that would be great! I need all the help I can get in meeting people and collecting stories.

    email me if you are interested or if you want more information:

  • 13 james // Sep 12, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Sorry, but Hilltop, and Tacoma in general, are still ghetto. Every time I’m in the area I am reminded of just why I left and what a positive effect that decision has had on my life.
    Tacoma is still TaCompton.

  • 14 Randy // Sep 30, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Well James,

    Then stay away. Help make it a better place, or don’t come here. But don’t bitch. You’re hella lame for that.

  • 15 michael // Oct 8, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Sara2010, I’d like to talk with you about your project but the email you cited is not in service. Please email me ASAP as I too am working on a project involving Hilltop.

  • 16 Matthias Bonjour // Jan 17, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    My family just bought a house on S. Sheridan Ave and although we are super excited about moving. We’re a bit nervous about the area – we’ve already had someone try to kick our basement door in and a HUGE fight broke out at our neighbour’s house today while we were painting.

    We see the potential here and want so desperately to see Hilltop fulfill that potential. We’re sticking it out, committing to this place – it’s our investment!

  • 17 Carolyn in Arizona.... // Mar 14, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Was so excited to see pictures of Frances Hall Apts. My grand parents lived ther from 1952-1957 . My sister and I have many happy childhood memories not only at the apts. but also at the park across the street! THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES!!!

  • 18 Xhail // Sep 12, 2011 at 9:05 am

    What about 8 st? Paul Post apartaments and the allies are in really bad condition! Byan Elementary School is Close that apartaments and many criminal activity in this area!

  • 19 Jesse in Tacoma // Jun 10, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    To Carolyn in Arizona- Do you remember what apartment/s #’s? I do work there and often wonder how it might have been there years ago….alot of the inside from the second floor to the 4th floor might look the same. It is very Charming and serving a great service for the Community, as well as sticking around for the future ~

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