SOUTH TACOMA WAY: THROUGH THE YEARS
American Native Americans name the prairie land south of Tacoma for its hunting. They call it Elk Trap.
1870s: Small dairy farms dominate the landscape.
1881: The Tacoma Land Co., a subsidiary of Northern Pacific Railroad, donates land for a cemetery.
1891: Opening of the Northern Pacific Railroad shops. The facility will grow to become the largest rail operation in the West, building and repairing rail cars.
1891: Land is purchased for the first Edison Elementary School. Until the school can be completed, classes are held at a feed store at South 58th Street and South Tacoma Way.
1892: The first rail car is completed at the Northern Pacific shops.
1895: The neighborhood gets a new name. Edison and Excelsior are history; it’s now South Tacoma.
1900: A streetcar overloaded with passengers headed to a Fourth of July celebration speeds downhill and plunges off a trestle spanning what is now South Tacoma Way. The accident kills 43 people and injures many more.
1907: South Tacoma gets one of its first auto sales and repair shops, in a back alley behind the Red Front Saloon near 54th Street and South Tacoma Way.
1909: The North Pacific Bank is built at the corner of South 56th Street and South Tacoma Way.
1909: Tacoma Mausoleum opens in Tacoma Cemetery, the first of its kind west of the Mississippi River.
1920: The Realart Theater brings motion pictures to South Tacoma Way.
1926: Harkness Rug Co. (later Harkness Furniture) opens on South Tacoma Way. The company opened a rug-cleaning business on Pine Street in 1920, then moved to the main drag. The store is still run by the family.
1926: The northern half of the street changes names, from Edison Avenue to South Tacoma Way.
1927: The Coffee Pot restaurant opens; later it will be known as the Java Jive.
1931: South Union Avenue is renamed and joined to South Tacoma Way.
1938: Buses replace streetcars on South Tacoma Way.
1940s: Busch’s Drive-In restaurant delights Tacoma teens and families. Car hops serve zombie sundaes, sodas and 10-cent hamburgers.
1941: Steve’s Gay ’90s Restaurant opens. The eatery, with its historic theme and can-can dancers, will grow over the years from a small coffee shop to a restaurant seating more than 700 people.
1942: A USO center opens to serve the recreation needs of soldiers during World War II.
1944: The USO center is given to the city Parks Department. Today, it’s the South Park Community Center.
1946: The B&I store opens. In time, it will become a landmark featuring a circus theme and live animals – including Ivan the gorilla.
1948: The Star-Lite Drive-in opens. 1952 A sparkling Roller Bowl skating rink opens, with what it claims is the largest pipe organ in the Northwest. The rink replaces one that had burned down.
1957: A sunrise Easter service takes place at the Star-Lite. Worshippers need never leave their cars.
1958: Heavyweight boxing champs Joe Louis and Max Baer sign autographs at the B&I.
1959: The South Tacoma Business Club hangs flower baskets along South Tacoma Way.
1961: The Realart movie theater becomes the Realart Square Dance Hall.
1963-64: Interstate 5 opens, drawing traffic away from what had been the main north-south thoroughfare. One businessman predicts: “After 90 days, when most drivers have had an opportunity to drive on the freeway for a while, traffic will actually increase on South Tacoma Way.”
1964: A baby gorilla, soon to be named Ivan, arrives at the B&I.
1967 Ivan moves into a concrete-and-steel cage inside the B&I.
1971: The Golden Dragon Restaurant, located next to the Realart Theater building since 1951, takes over the theater space.
1974: Northern Pacific Shops close. Within a year, most of the facility’s red brick buildings will be demolished.
1977: Steve’s Gay ’90s Restaurant closes.
1979: The South Tacoma Business Club opens a business incubator office on South Tacoma Way, hoping to revitalize commerce.
1984: Larry Anderson’s statue “Coming Home” depicts a rail worker greeting his child. It’s in front of the bank at the corner of South 56th Street and South Tacoma Way.
1985: The Roller Bowl skating rink closes.
1988: Boo Han Market, an Asian grocery, opens.
Early 1990s: Animal rights groups call for the B&I to place Ivan in a zoo program where he can live with other gorillas. Ivan’s plight gains national attention.
1990: Business owners debate a new name for the area along South Tacoma Way between South 84th and 94th streets. Some want to call it Korea Town; others favor International Business District.
1992: B&I files for bankruptcy reorganization, and Ivan’s fate lands in a courtroom.
1993: Pal-Do World, an international market, opens on South Tacoma Way.
1994: Ivan is air-freighted to Atlanta to take up residence in the city zoo. In Tacoma, Ivan is gone but not forgotten, as the B&I celebrates Ivan’s 40th birthday.
2000: Tacoma Mausoleum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
2004: Developer Hank L. Bardon pays more than $7 million for the Star-Lite property, no longer a drive-in but a swap meet.