The Tacoma Sun


Over Tacoma Then & Now: Wapato Lake

By Morgan Alexander

In this series, the Sun explores the city from a thousand feet up. 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: Wapato Lake


In this 1931 photo we see a fair amount of development to the east of the lake. Meanwhile, the western side still looks to be mostly rural.


In this 1950 photo, a main entrance to the park has been added on the eastern side (notice the roundabout). A couple of bridges have been placed across the lake by this time. Also note the extension of major arterials to the area replacing dirt roads and paths.


The difference seen in this 1973 photo is striking compared with just 23 years prior. The eastern grid is nearly fully built out and the western side has become more developed as well. Post WWII suburban developments are crowding the north end of the lake while I-5 has chopped its way through connecting with a widened 72nd Street.


This 1990 shot shows a continued filling in of the grid, but also a commercial strip development has sprung up adjacent to the lake on the western side.


And finally a color photo taken in 2006. Note how the size of the lake appears to be shrinking compared with earlier photos.

published October 29th, 2008

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Roxanne // Oct 29, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    I think it looks smaller because the second bridge toward the smaller tip of the lake has been overgrown with vegetation and the lake isn’t very deep at the point where the vegetation starts to take over.

  • 2 Dave Daurelle // Nov 22, 2008 at 11:39 am

    You’ll also notice that between 1950 and 1973 the drain has been added in the southwest corner of the lake. That is also controlling the lake level. If you look how far back the lake has receded from 72nd, you get a good feel for how much they dropped the lake level with the drain.

  • 3 Peter Callaghan // Mar 4, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    The baseball field appears in the 1973 photo. Anyone remember when it was built? And I don’t think it is there any more, right?

    I used to play at that field as a kid but couldn’t find it the last time I explored.

  • 4 Derek // May 26, 2011 at 10:25 am

    My wife and I are looking up houses right now. It appears that the lake is totally overgrown now. Check out the link.

Leave a Comment