The Tacoma Hotel

Just above the 705 Freeway overlooking Commencement Bay is The Frank Russell Building. Frank Russell is a large investment company and if you attempt to gain access to the building without an appointment you will be escorted out by an unfriendly security guard. I learned this during my ‘How many building roofs can I get onto in downtown Tacoma?’ project back in 2003. It turns out I was a ninety years too late for a warm welcome.

Back in 1893 I would have found the Tacoma Hotel (pictured above) to be an friendly and inviting place located close to the waterfront and crime kingpin Harry Morgan’s gambling saloon (more on him later). Built in 1884 by architect Stanford White, the Tacoma Hotel was once rated the best hotel on the west coast. Guests included Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain. If you went to Tacoma anytime between 1884 and 1935, you stayed at the Tacoma Hotel.

In 1890s the Tacoma Hotel had a mascot named Jack. Jack was an 800-pound bear the staff had raised from a cub. And like many of the guests at hotel, Jack liked to drink beer. He would grab a mug in his front paws and down pint after pint. Papers across the country wrote of Jack the Beer Bear.

One night in March of 1893 Jack had apparently had one pint too many and refused to go back into his pen. The drunken bear left the hotel and started down 9th street towards Pacific Avenue, a busy thoroughfare even then. A police officer shot Jack twice. This did not kill Jack but quelled him enough that he returned to the hotel. But Jack was not the same. He wouldn’t let anyone near him and wasn’t going to play anymore games for the hotel guests. He wasn’t friendly and refused to eat. So they put him down.

The Tacoma Hotel continued to do great business and was a well-known landmark until October 17, 1935 when a fire started in the basement. The fire spread quickly and completely destroyed the hotel.

-Jack Cameron

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