By Spencer Bowman
From commercial advertising-related images that leave behind evidence of hotels and businesses, to one-of-a-kind picture postcards of individuals and landscapes, these unassuming cards capture many particular characteristics of our region's past. While we do need to acknowledge that the content on these cards was created to catch the eye of a customer and sell a product, they still present a unique noteworthy historic document. The Northwest Room's Postcard Collection, opens a new window includes cards dating from the 1890s through to the 1990s. It is organized by the last name of the donor along with a series of postcards organized by their subject matter. Some named collections, such as Stenger, were returned to the collector after scanning and the originals are not held by the Northwest Room at Tacoma Public Library. In this blog post, we look at a few interesting examples that make this collection unique! Click on any of the images to see them in ORCA.
As I mentioned, one aspect of these cards is how they document locations, buildings, and other areas of interest that are either long gone or vastly changed. From hotels, places of worship, and even small businesses some of these postcards are the only remnant of them even existing. The postcard on the left was a free giveaway supplied by the Sherwood Inn. This hotel was located at 8402 South Hosmer Street, opens a new window, in Tacoma. While you might first assume that the Sherwood Inn was torn down to make way for the Holiday Inn that now occupies the site since the building looks almost nothing like the one seen in the postcard, you would be mistaken! A quick jump over to the Buildings Index entry for that address would inform you that the buildings are the same, just extensively remodeled. When the Sherwood Inn opened it boasted olde English-like interiors and included the Green Leaf Room, King's Table, and the Robin Hood Lounge. Since then, the building has changed ownership and has been remodeled many times, leaving this postcard as our only record of its 1960s splendor!
To the right, we see a group of people having dinner on the porch of The Tacoma Hotel, opens a new window. This hotel opened on 8/8/1884 and previously stood downtown at 913 A Street, where the Landmark Building stands today. In its day this hotel was Tacoma's top-tier lodging. It boasted ornamental woodwork throughout its interior such as carved oak balustrades "carved in the most stylish designs", Eastlake-styled wainscotting, gas lighting fixtures, and the largest billiard room in the west (1). Not to mention, transoms furnished in cathedral glass and, gourmet cuisine served at its restaurant. On October 17th, 1935, a fire broke out in the carpentry shop of the hotel and quickly spread throughout the hotel. All the hotel guests were saved and there were no fatalities, however, the fire was unable to be extinguished and the hotel was completely lost. This postcard gives us an idea of what it might have been like dining on the hotel's porch overlooking the bay in 1910.
Another interesting aspect of this collection is some of the ways it captures cultural and artistic content. To the left, we see an image taken of a salmon bake. The salmon, suspended over the fire, is cooked for roughly over an hour, all the while capturing the distinct flavor of the specific type of would used to cook it. Judging by the Chevrolet parked in the upper left-hand corner of the photo, this card was printed sometime after the 1950s. This style of baking salmon was used by many local tribes throughout history. In this photo , opens a new windowfrom our Image Archive, you can see Puyallup Tribe member Jerry Meeker baking salmon in the same fashion in 1912.
On the right, we see Matilda McCarty, of the Makah Tribe, weaving baskets outside the Tribal Arts Shop at Neah Bay. These baskets were weaved out of cedar and bear grass, two native plants to the Pacific Northwest. Matilda McCarty was a prominent leader in the Makah tribe and an expert basket weaver (2). This photo captures her before her passing in 1963 (2).
We leave you with one from the lighter side of the collection. This includes a variety of humorous postcards that date back to the early 1900s.The postcard on the right is poking fun at our local bumpy roads, something we can all relate to in Tacoma.
Those are just a few of the wide variety of content you'll find while exploring the postcard collection. Even though these mass-produced and one-of-a-kind cards were created for an ephemeral existence they leave us an opportunity to see our regional history from a unique historic viewpoint. We invite you to explore the collection!
(1) "The Tacoma: Formal Opening to This Magnificent House", Tacoma News Tribune, 8/9/1884 p.1
(2) Rowena and Gordon D. Alcorn, "Makahs Mourn Death", Port Angeles Evening News, 3/11/1963 p.3