[caption id="attachment_1861" align="aligncenter" width="425" caption="I wonder what filled in that sign above the sidewalk."][/caption] Tacoma once had grand plans. Selected as the western terminus for the Great Northern Railway, Tacoma now had a direct link back across the northern part of the U.S., all the way to St. Paul, Minnesota. And St. Paul linked to Chicago which, in turn, reached the rest of the world. Tacoma and its ports boomed. There was a building frenzy. [caption id="attachment_1862" align="aligncenter" width="425" caption="Beautiful, and lonely."][/caption] Its national prominence was short lived, however. By 1893, the United States had plunged into a speculation-driven depression (sound familiar?), and building slowed. Three years later, gold was discovered in the Klondike, and Seattle became the gateway to Alaska and Yukon. Tacoma ended up playing second fiddle. [caption id="attachment_1863" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="The heart of the Theater District."][/caption] The port city persevered, and found some measure of stability through logging and manufacturing. A collection of impressive buildings and homes went up. [caption id="attachment_1865" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="A home on the edge of downtown."][/caption] [caption id="attachment_1866" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Stadium High School, Tacoma."][/caption] In recent years, the city has worked to change its image as a hardscrabble, working-class town. They've added some great museums, there's a light rain link that travels downtown, and the is some great old architecture throughout the city. [caption id="attachment_1867" align="aligncenter" width="425" caption="Small town charm in a big city."][/caption] Get this: the metro is FREE! [/caption] And yet, as I explored Tacoma's streets for hours on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, I was struck by how few people were out in the streets. Gorgeous old storefronts stood vacant, awaiting some loving commercial property preservation. Restaurants were closed for the day. The metro was almost empty. Office buildings are being foreclosed. [caption id="attachment_1869" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Fall colors on the trees and the cars."][/caption] Still, the city is worth looking at. Thanks to visionaries like Alan Liddle, much of downtown avoided the wrecking ball. Rows of century-old buildings stretch on for blocks, offering the kind of urban patchwork that would seem to attract galleries, boutiques, specialty shops, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. [caption id="attachment_1870" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Downtown."][/caption] [caption id="attachment_1871" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="This is the kind of place I imagine in all of these buildings, perhaps with a less pungent name."][/caption] Maybe there is hope for Tacoma after all. The population is growing steadily (recent estimates show just over 200,000 denizens within city limits), and the city offers a distinctly slower pace than nearby Seattle. I don't think that Tacoma's ship has sailed. It's just that Tacoma's ship isn't a luxury cruise ship. It's a slow-moving barge, putting the pieces of commerce in place, steadily, so that tomorrow might be brighter than today.  

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