Monthly Archives: November 2012

Tacoma’s First Underground Tour

My friend Jenya and I before embarking on the Underground Tour

I’m not one for tours. For the most part I like exploring things on my own, but when I saw Angela Jossy’s announcement of a ‘Once In A Lifetime Underground Tour of Tacoma’, I had to go. The Facebook page spoke of the legendary Shanghai Tunnels, the vaulted sidewalks, Old City Hall, and Never Never Land figures. For those who are unaware of some of these Tacoma legends, here’s a bit of background.

The Chinese Tunnels are among Tacoma’s oldest legends. Depending on who you’re talking to they were for literally shanghaiing unruly customers at shady bars, sending the unsuspecting patrons to the basement, through the tunnel and onto a ship down on the waterfront or they were for smuggling Chinese workers after their expulsion from Tacoma in 1885 or they were used as  opium dens. But as many stories as there are, there is a distinct lack of evidence of these tunnels.

Old City Hall is one of Tacoma’s oldest and most beautiful buildings. Sadly, due to a series of unfortunate events, Old City Hall is now vacant and in some areas unsafe. It’s future remains uncertain.

Walk the streets of downtown Tacoma and look down. Occasionally you’ll see thick opaque glass. These are the vaulted sidewalks of Tacoma. In other words, there’s something under that sidewalk.

And then there was Never Never Land. As a child I remembered going to Never Never Land at Pt. Defiance Park. There was a meandering trail through the woods where various figurines acted out parts from famous fairy tales. It was kind of cool but kind of creepy. Never Never Land closed many years ago and left behind empty areas along the trail where once stood Little Red Riding Hood or the Three Little Pigs. Recently even the trail was removed leaving almost no evidence that Never Never Land ever existed.

Given all of this, I was excited as hell to go on this tour. Unfortunately in the days leading up to the tour, Angela had to cancel the Old City Hall portion of the tour due to lack of cooperation from the current tenants. She also reminded people that any tunnels were long ago filled in and we’d only be seeing the entrance to one and that this was not going to be like the Seattle Underground Tours. None of this deterred me.

It turned out that Jenya, an old friend from high school who I hadn’t seen in years was also interested in going on the tour. We met up in the early afternoon to catch up and then headed downtown.

We were supposed to pick up tickets any time after 3:00pm at the Gritty City Gift Fair at 9th and Broadway. We arrived at around 5:30pm. When we got there, the earliest group we could sign up for was 7:40pm. We met up with a couple of other friends and went to PSP (Puget Sound Pizza) for a couple drinks and some awesome pizza while we waited.

We came back at 7:30pm to find that the 7:20pm team was just now leaving. We wandered around the Gritty City Gift Fair. I ran into Kris Brannon otherwise known as Sonics Guy as well as ThanksGIVING founder Heidi Stoermer. I also saw Fingerprint Confection Owner, Clay Richart along with his wife who were selling their amazing caramels at the Fair. It was like a 5 Question Friday gathering.

A previous tour returned. We were told to grab the hard hats from them and be sure to sign the release form. I heard one returning person say that the tour was ‘underwhelming’. Not knowing this person, I had no idea what they expected it to be so this didn’t really bother me.

As the time crawled past 8pm, I became a bit concerned. Luckily the tour started a few minutes later. It turns out that two of the tour guides had gone home. One had hurt their ankle and the other, we were told, um, stepped in a puddle. The result was that Angela and another guide whose name I did not get were taking almost two tours worth of people at once to help get things caught up. We followed her down the hill to Pacific Avenue then took a left towards South 7th Street.

As we approached Meconi’s Pub, we were split into two groups. One went into Meconi’s. The other group (my group) was taken around the back of the building to find a man named Darryl who would show us where to go.

Around the back was an open door and Darryl. He led us to a spiral staircase covered in plastic sheeting that went down to the basement. In this basement, there were dozens of figurines. Every one of them creepier than I ever remember them being. The idea that at one point these were meant to entertain children is disturbing. That I was one of those children is even more bothersome.

Here are some photos of these almost forgotten relics:

Three Little Pigs

Big Bad Wolf

Assorted Characters

Ummm…

Past the figurines walking towards the direction of the street was a dark area where the flashlights were absolutely necessary. The stone floor was wet. There was thick glass above us in certain areas that I recognized as part of the sidewalk. These were the vaulted sidewalks of Tacoma. You can’t really see through the glass, but it was clear that if it was day, the sunlight would have provided at least a little illumination.

Vaulted Sidewalk

We walked back past the Never Never Land figures and up the stairs to switch places with the other group. Once inside Meconi’s we were led through a door, down another staircase to another vaulted sidewalk. This one had a substantial pool of water on the ground. I assumed this was the puddle that took out a previous tour guide. I walked through it with no problem.

Back in Meconi’s we walked through to the back of the bar where we went through another door and another staircase. Here there was a wall of brick and cement framed by a doorway. This we were told was once an entrance to a tunnel that went all the way to the docks.

In the 1880s, this area of Tacoma was full of illicit activities so a secret tunnel to the docks wasn’t even a little far fetched.

We left Meconi’s and head back up towards 9th and Broadway by way of the Spanish steps, near the old Elk’s Lodge that McMenamin’s has recently purchased and promised to turn into what might end up being one of the best night spots in Tacoma. It seemed fitting to end the tour through Tacoma’s past with a glimpse of what’s in Tacoma’s future.

The entire tour took about twenty minutes or so and if I had been expecting something out of Indiana Jones, I suppose I too would have been underwhelmed. As it was, I had a great time with my friends exploring forgotten bits of the City of Destiny. That to me was more than worth the $10 price of admission.

As a side note, Angela Jossy recently found out that they’re not destroying the vaulted sidewalks in January like she thought and there may yet be time for another round of Underground Tours for those who missed it this first time around. If she does, I’ll post that information on this article when I have it.

I’d like to publicly thank Angela Jossy and everyone else who helped her put on this tour.

- Jack Cameron

5 Question Friday With The Blue Mouse Theatre’s Susan Evans

Just about every city has a second-run theater where you can see movies after they leave the multiplex but before they arrive on DVD. For Tacoma, that theater is the Blue Mouse. Located in the vibrant Proctor District of Tacoma, it’s not just a theater that shows old movies. It’s a place from a bygone era. Unfortunately, it’s run into a 21st Century problem. Luckily, there are 21st Century solutions. I asked Susan Evans, the manager of the Blue Mouse to join me for 5 Question Friday to talk a little about the Blue Mouse and how people can help keep a Tacoma landmark alive. She was happy to accept the invitation. Here’s Susan: 

1. What is the Blue Mouse?

The Blue Mouse Theatre is the Oldest Operating Theatre in the State Of Washington.

We opened November 13th 1923, and We are the only discount movie theatre in Tacoma.

2. What makes the Blue Mouse unique?

Because the Blue Mouse is independently owned, we have the ability to do special events, long running film festivals, and bring school events out in to the community. Although we play mainstream films we pride ourselves as a family theatre where families can drop their kids and know they are safe and well cared for.

3. What is your favorite memory of the Blue Mouse?

There are too many to List. Every day is a new memory. But I guess I would have to say, My daughter’s wedding.

4. How can people help keep the Blue Mouse operating?

The Blue Mouse Has Kicked off a online fundraiser on Kickstarter.

This is a all or nothing campaign, If we DO NOT reach our goal we get NOTHING

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1355844229/help-save-the-blue-mouse-theatre

Not only do you get great rewards for your contribution, but you receive a tax deduction and you get to tell your friends and family that you helped save a local icon.

5. What do you see for the future of the Blue Mouse?

I see the Blue Mouse reaching and exceeding our goal allowing us to purchase a Digital Projector being able to do additional upgrades and staying open for generations to come.

I’d like to thank Susan for joining me on 5 Question Friday and as we get into the holiday season, I’d like to you consider giving to their Kickstarter campaign. Be a part of preserving Tacoma history. 

You can find out more about the Blue Mouse Theatre at http://www.bluemousetheatre.com/ or you can check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Blue-Mouse-Theatre/ 

As always, if you think you or someone you know would be interested in participating in 5 Question Friday, send me an email at jackcameronis@gmail.com.

- Jack Cameron

4th Annual ThanksGIVING Food Drive Wrap Up

A couple weeks ago, I had Heidi Stoermer for 5 Question Friday telling us about her annual food drive for Tacoma Rescue Mission. Heidi and a small group of dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers along donations from countless others made this year’s feed drive a rousing success. I asked Heidi if I could share her write up of the event and she graciously accepted. Here’s Heidi:

I’ve been pondering this wrap up for a few of days now, wondering how I can even begin to summarize this year’s drive. Let me start with a little history, and then we’ll get to the counts.

Our ThanksGIVING Food Drive began 4 years ago. I was working for a large company in downtown Tacoma, who decided to move operations elsewhere. My team had volunteered several times at the Rescue Mission, so we were all familiar with the great work that the mission does every day. The ThanksGIVING Food Drive was an extension of that volunteer work, and a way for the team to refocus our priorities in the face of a layoff.

That first year, we raised about $150.  A small group of coworkers took a shopping trip, and we filled the trunk of our car with turkeys, canned goods, stuffing, and potatoes. We dropped it all off at the Rescue Mission, and drove away feeling buoyant, thankful. There were high fives and hugs all around.

Karin Losk (my ThanksGIVING counterpart/partner in couponing) and I decided that we’d make our little food drive a yearly tradition. We nearly doubled our donations the second year, and filled my VW bus – Pickle – to the rafters. Last year, our 3rd, we had a very slow start. But friends came together, we wheeled and dealed, and once again, we were able to pack Pickle full of turkeys, pies, and all the fixings.

That brings us up to this year – our 4th Annual ThanksGIVING Food Drive!

This is the first year that we opened our food drive up to the community, not just our friends, family, and coworkers. We had high hopes for mobile donation stations and personal pick-ups for folks who couldn’t get to us on donation day. A good friend, Jack Cameron, interviewed us for TacomaStories.com, and we got a little more help from TacomaMama.com. Folks shared our event far and wide, committing to help us help the Rescue Mission.

As these things go, some of those commitments fell through. I had a pretty discouraging week or so prior to donation day, trying to nail down store discounts and our donation pick-up schedule. In the end, though, an amazing thing happened (again!) – friends started coming out of the woodwork, offering their time and energy to help make this drive successful. By donation day, we had so many volunteers that our usual all-day shopping trip could be whittled down to a 2 hour block. We split up into 3 teams – 2 shopping teams, and a mobile donation station.

The only store that agreed to help us this year was Top Foods, so we made that our base of operations. In our first hour of shopping, we’d secured 17 turkeys. The cashier asked us what was going on with all the birds, so we talked to her about the Rescue Mission and our ThanksGIVING food drive. Across town, team #2 was at Saar’s Market, also making out like bandits. Both teams made second stops at Albertsons stores, where another interested cashier tried to find us more coupons to use on boxes of stuffing.

In the meantime, our first mobile donation station of the day was having a pretty rough time out at the Krispy Kreme by the Tacoma Mall. Not a single person met us at that station, which we’ll definitely keep in mind for next year’s drive. We all met back up at Top Foods at noon, where things picked up again. We received a few last minute donations that allowed us to purchase 5 additional turkeys. The same cashier helped us the second time around, and let us know that she’d looked for us about an hour before, while we were at Albertsons. Someone had bought $1000 worth of groceries, which made them elligible for 6 free turkeys. The shopper didn’t want them, but the cashier made sure they got rung up anyway. Since we were away when the freebies came through, they weren’t part of our count, but those turkeys did make it to the Salvation Army. I’m so glad we told that cashier about ThanksGIVING – she said she wouldn’t have thought twice about it if we hadn’t come through her line that morning.

With all the donation funds spent, Karin and I made a run out to the Lakewood Walmart for our final donation station and a personal pick-up. For the second year in a row, our buddy Mark Manning and his partner Annie met us with a huge food donation – pies, butter, cereal, boxed meals – all sorts of great stuff that we hadn’t had the funds to purchase. Karin’s cousin, Kirtsen, also met us and offloaded apples staight off her trees and farm fresh eggs.

By the time all was said and done, we had 2 vehicles absolutely overflowing with donations. We caravanned down to the mission, where we unloaded our haul with the help of several mission volunteers.

I took a moment to ask about the typical donation that the Rescue Mission receives at this time of year, and one of the volunteers noted, “This is the biggest donation I’ve seen by far.” All of the planning, all of the stress, getting soaking wet and freezing in the rain, loading 500 lbs of turkeys from one car to another – it was all worth it the moment we heard that.

Without further ado, here are this year’s totals:

29 turkeys (average weight: 18 lbs)

10 hams

252 lbs potatoes

20 lbs apples

17 lbs carrots

10 lbs celery

7 lbs sweet potatoes

5 lbs onions

95 boxes of stuffing

86 cans green beans

86 cans corn

27 cans cranberry

14 large cans yams

12 cans olives

11 cans pineapple

24 cans gravy

12 gravy mix

72 frozen rolls

13 boxes pastaroni

8 boxes scalloped potatoes

5 boxes macaroni and cheese

3 lbs spaghetti

5 dozen eggs

4 large boxes stock

4 pumpkin pies

3 boxes butter

2 boxes Cheerios

2 tubs of cool whip

…and a single 2 liter of Dr. Pepper that we got for free since we spent so much at one of the grocery stores. :)

We were able to do this because cash donations this year were the most we’ve ever received. They came from all over the South Sound, as well as from friends in Nevada and California. Our friend Chris came the farthest to donate and lend a hand, joining us for the day from Salvador, Brazil. To everyone that donated this year – be it time, funds, or food – THANK YOU! We’ll see you next year, on Nov. 16th. Mark your calendars!

One footnote:

As we were about to leave the Rescue Mission, one of the volunteers came out of the walk-in freezer, and updated their turkey count to include our donation: 200 turkeys

That seems like a lot, until you learn that the Rescue Mission needs 2000 turkeys to meet the needs of our community this Thanksgiving.

Today, the mission hit 483 turkeys, with only 2 days to go. If you’re out shopping tomorrow and hit that $50 or $100 level several stores have right now, please grab that free or discounted turkey and get it to the mission. If it’s easier for you to make a direct donation, you can do so here: http://www.rescue-mission.org/donate

Please also remember that while our ThanksGIVING drive comes but once a year, the Rescue Mission feeds hundreds of people every day, more than 23,000 meals a month. Your donations are always welcome, no matter the season.

Happy ThanksGIVING!

Tenth Tacoma Homicide of 2012: David Watson

Early Sunday morning, 45-year-old David Watson got in his pick-up truck and went looking for his dog. He apparently found his dog and stopped at a convenience store on S. 56th and S. Lawrence Street. While he sat in his pick-up truck somebody shot him. David then drove a couple of blocks before veering off the road. Neighbors reported the revving truck engine. David was found dead behind the wheel. His dog was with him. Surveillance cameras show two men running away from the pick up truck at the convenience store. Police are currently looking for these two men.

By all accounts this wasn’t a robbery or a drug deal gone bad. No one seems to know what exactly led to this tenth homicide in Tacoma this year. What is known is that David Watson will be missed and that his friends and family as well as this site hope that his killer is brought to justice soon.

As always, the comments section is reserved for those who knew David to share with us who he was and remember him. I approve every comment on this site so don’t be surprised if it doesn’t pop up right away. Here’s hoping this is the last Tacoma homicide this year.

UPDATE: A 16-year-old boy has been arrested in connection with the death of David Watson. Reports say that the boy and another 16-year-old boy confronted David demanding his possessions. He reportedly laughed at them and attempted to grab the gun and was shot during the confrontation.

- Jack Cameron

5 Question Friday With ThanksGIVING Food Drive’s Heidi Stoermer

As the holidays approach, it’s natural to think of those less fortunate and imagine what we can do to help. It’s not just about feeling good by helping people. It’s about helping build a stronger community.

Heidi Stoermer is a good friend I’ve known for many years. She’s one of the most driven and generous people I know. During a recent outing to a local pub, Heidi told me about her work with Tacoma Rescue Mission. As I listened to Heidi, I realized that this was something that needed to be shared. Heidi agreed to join me for 5 Question Friday this week and let you all know what she’s doing and how you can easily help those most in need this holiday season. Here’s Heidi:
1. What is the ThanksGIVING Food Drive?

The ThanksGIVING Food Drive is actually 2 things, which both benefit the Rescue Mission here in Tacoma.

1. We’re expert Thanksgiving shoppers! We accept cash donations, which we use to purchase holiday food items such as turkeys, fresh veggies, stuffing, and pies. We’re able to maximize cash donations by working with store and meat department managers at the grocery stores we shop at. Stadium Thriftway, Top Foods, QFC, Safeway, and the Tacoma City Grocer have all given us a hand in previous years.

2. We’re a mobile donation station! This means that we set up meeting times in central locations where folks can drop off their donations, like the Krispy Kreme parking lot at the Tacoma Mall and the Walmart on Bridgeport Way in Lakewood. We’ll also come directly to you to pick up your order if you’re within a reasonable radius of downtown Tacoma.

2. How did you first get involved in the ThanksGIVING Food Drive?

This is our 4th Annual ThanksGIVING Food Drive! I was working for a large company in downtown Tacoma, who decided to move operations elsewhere. I had previously spearheaded a volunteer effort for my team, so we were all familiar with the great work that the Rescue Mission does every day. The ThanksGIVING Food Drive was an extension of that volunteer work, and a way for the team to refocus our priorities in the face of a layoff.

3. What is something everyone should know about this project?

We facilitate the ThanksGIVING Food Drive once a year, but the Rescue Mission serves more than 23,000 meals every month. Last year, we donated 18 turkeys out of the 2000 that the mission needs to ensure that everyone who asks for a hot meal over Thanksgiving week gets one. We’re just a drop in the bucket. Our goal is to make our drop the biggest and most effective.

4. How can people help if they want to get involved?

Folks can join our event on Facebook here, where we’ll be posting meeting times and locations: http://www.facebook.com/events/456365267738121

Donators can send me a direct message on Facebook or at heidistoermer@gmail.com with any questions, or to scheduled a personal meeting time for food or cash donation pick-up for Nov. 16th or 17th.

We’d also love to hear from you if you have a trailer we might borrow for the drive. :)

5. What do you see for the future of the ThanksGIVING Food Drive?

This is the first year that we’ve opened this food drive up to the community – previously, we’d collected only from friends, family, and co-workers. We’re expecting this to be the biggest ThanksGIVING Food Drive to date, and hope to continue the tradition for years to come. It will always be held the weekend prior to Thanksgiving, to ensure that fresh veggies stay fresh and frozen turkeys have time to thaw. :)

I’d like to thank Heidi for taking the time to join me for 5 Question Friday and I’m hoping those reading this will take the time to join in this great cause.

Update: Heidi wants to add a couple of things:

1. I say “we” a lot in this interview. The other half of the “we” is Karin Jenette Dhaese Losk. She deserves a high five (or 50) for keeping track of every single can and box and turkey and pie.

2. If you would rather donate directly to the Mission, that is A-OKAY with us! Our goal is to get the Mission as much help as possible over the Thanksgiving holiday, so if our drive doesn’t work for you but you’d still like to chip in, no worries – you can donate directly here: http://www.rescue-mission.org/donate

As always if you or anyone you know would like to participate in 5 Question Friday, drop me a line at jackcameronis@gmail.com

- Jack Cameron