Newly Accessible Tacoma Mayoral Papers!

Until recently, our collections of documents produced by Tacoma's mayors have not been accessible to the public. Now you can browse the contents of these papers online in ORCA. Discover both digitized material as well documents available to view in person related to seven Tacoma mayors stretching from 1907 through 2005.  From melancholic poetry, ill-fated plans for a Tacoma World's Fair, to a speech about ASARCO environmental concerns, and interviews with local leaders; you never know what you might find in some of these mayor's documents. In this blog post we'll take a look at the individuals mayors in our collection and highlight a few of the digitized items from their materials. If you come to a folder in ORCA or a document without an accompanying scan of it, please give us a call or email and we can help you access it!

Click on any of the mayor's names to browse their papers or any of the images to see that digitized item in more detail.

Mayor John Linck, (1907-1909)

John W. Linck was born in Jefferson County, Indiana on December 7th, 1843. His father was a German immigrant, and his mother was an Irish immigrant. Linck entered university to study law. He was admitted to the bar in 1868 and became an attorney for the National Branch Bank and the Pennsylvania Railway Company. He was first appointed as Special Agent of the Treasury Department by President William Henry Harrison, and then appointed again by President McKinley. During his second appointment as Treasury Special Agent, he was transferred in 1898 to Tacoma, WA, where he ultimately resigned from the Treasury and went was elected as mayor in 1908. He retired from that office in 1910 and went back to practicing law until 1914, when he ran for election again as justice of the Peace and served as such until 1922, when he was defeated for re-election. He then retired from public life and died in 1927 at the age of 83 years old.

Click the image on the left to read Mayor John Linck's melancholic poem, "By the Flickering Light of a Fading Fire"

Mayor Harold Tollefson (1954-1956 & 1962-1967)

Tollefson was born in Perley, Minnesota, one of seven children. His family moved to Tacoma when he was two and lived in the McKinley Hill neighborhood.

He graduated in 1928 from Lincoln High School, then worked at Hunt and Mottet Hardware to support two of his siblings while they completed their education. Tollefson graduated with a law degree from the University of Washington and began practicing law in Tacoma in 1939. The City Council appointed him to Mayor. As Mayor, Tollefson worked to shut down commercial prostitution and gambling in the city. He oversaw development of modern sewage treatment for Tacoma, undertook a program of street paving and lighting, and worked to replace the city’s wooden water mains. After completing his term as Mayor, he served on the Council from 1956-1958. Defeated in the 1967 election, Tollefson returned to practicing law in Tacoma. He continued in public service as a board member of the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington. 

Click the image on the right to see a humorous image joking about the City of Tacoma's Space Program.

Mayor Ben Hanson, (1958-1962)

Benjamin (Ben) Hanson was born in 1926 in North Dakota, and moved to Washington with his family when he was young. He joined the military after high school, and later would go on to go to attend law school at the University of Washington. He opened a law firm in Tacoma and became involved with Tacoma politics, joining the City Council. Ben Hanson was appointed as mayor of Tacoma in June 1958 by the Tacoma City Council under the Council-Manager form of government, and at 31 years old, he was, at that time, inaugurated as Tacoma’s youngest-ever mayor. Two years later, in 1960, Hanson was elected to be retained by popular vote, and served 2 more years as Mayor of Tacoma. Notably, during his term he made a visit to Tacoma’s sister city of Kokura City, Japan in 1959. After his time as Mayor, he went back to practicing law until his retirement. He passed away in 2007.

Mayor Gordon Johnston, (1970-1978)

Gordon Johnston was born in South Tacoma in 1918. He graduated from Lincoln High School in 1936, and married his wife, Esther, in 1941. During World War II, he served in the U.S Army as a Master Sergeant. Johnston was elected mayor of Tacoma in 1969, defeating incumbent mayor A.L. "Slim" Rasmussen by a mere one percent of the vote. In his first year in office, both Johnston and the city council members faced recall campaigns from the citizens of Tacoma. Following petitions calling for the recall of five city councilors, there were additional calls for Mayor Johnston and the remaining three council members to be removed from office as well. In a vote in September 1970, five councilors were voted out of office. Johnston remained in office and served two terms as Tacoma’s mayor. As a lifelong resident of Tacoma, he spent his years of retirement camping and spending time with his grandchildren until he passed away in 2006.

Click the image on the left to read through a speech given by Mayor Johnston on ASARCO smelter environmental concerns, dated 1975.

Mayor Mike Parker, (1978-1982)

Mike Parker was born in Renton, Washington on May 23, 1947. He became the youngest legislator in Washington state history when he was elected to the State House of Representatives at age 26. On November 8, 1977, he defeated state senator Lorraine Wojahn to become the youngest Mayor ever elected in Tacoma at age 30. Parker is most known for his role in developing plans and gathering support for the Tacoma Dome. After his term as Mayor, he ran to become the first Pierce County Executive, but lost to Booth Gardner. He went on to pursue a career in the broadcast industry. 

In 1979 the mayor at the time, Mike Parker, had a big dream. This dream involved bringing a world's fair to Tacoma in 1989. An Exposition of the Pacific

Rim countries was the theme of the fair. "The idea started in 1972 when I was elected to the legislature", Parker remarked in the Tacoma News Tribune. "My opponents said it was a pie-in-the-sky idea, but I talked to people in Seattle and Spokane, and they had the same negative reactions."(1) As his dream picked up steam Parker hired Allen Beach, who had been involved in planning other world's fairs and expos including Seattle's Century 12 Exposition in 1962. Mockup plans and proposals were drawn up to explore ideas of what this expo might look like. A look through these documents show us how extravagant some of the early ideas became. A monorail loop was proposed to link downtown together to the expo grounds, that were to be located south of Puyallup Ave and north of I-5. Two large space age apartment towers were to be connected by two skybridges to a large dome-like event space. Interestingly, just south of the dome area in one of the drawings stands a space needle like structure. This is likely one of Allen Beach's influences on the early development. The project was gaining momentum through the early part of 1979 until early April 1979. The steam was let out of Parker's dream for the fair when Pierce County legislators voted down creating a special state commission to oversee planning the event. (2)

Click here to brows the drawings and plans related to Mayor Mike Parker's proposed 1989 Pacific Rim Exposition.

Mayor Karen Vialle, (1990-1994)

Karen Vialle was born in Tacoma in 1943 to Leo and Arline Ristvet. She graduated from Wilson High School in 1961 and from the University of Puget Sound in 1963. In 1988, she launched her first run for office and was elected to the Tacoma City Council. In 1990, she became the first woman elected Mayor of Tacoma, serving in the role until 1994. She was elected to the Tacoma Public Schools Board of Directors in 2011 and 2017. She also served as an Assistant Professor at the University of Puget Sound, a consultant for the Puyallup and Muckleshoot tribal school systems, a substitute teacher, executive director of Centro Latino, assistant director of the State Budget Office, and deputy chief for the State Insurance Commissioner. In 2019, former Mayor Marilyn Strickland credited Vialle for making it possible for other women and diverse candidates to run for office in Tacoma. As Mayor, Vialle arranged for the purchase and cleanup of the Foss Waterway and led urban renewal and mass transit projects.

Mayor Bill Baarsma, (2001-2005)

Bill Baarsma was born in Tacoma in 1942. He attended Stadium High School and the University of Puget Sound (Class of 1964) where he studied political science. He obtained a master's degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. where he served as a clerk for Senator Henry M. Jackson and as a White House Fellow with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. From 1968 to 2001, Baarsma taught political science, business management, and public administration at the University of Puget Sound. In 1991, he was elected to City Council and, in 2001, he became the 38th Mayor of the City of Tacoma. During his two terms as Mayor, Baarsma was involved in the development of the Click Network, the largest municipally owned telecommunications system in North America.

Click on the image of Lyle Quasim to the left to listen to Mayor Bill Baarsma discuss how Quasim became involved in the City of Tacoma's Neighborhood Council to promote the Safe Streets Campaign, which aimed to eliminate the conditions that lead to drugs, gangs, and violence within Tacoma's neighborhoods.

(1) Ostlund, Bill. "Parker's Dream Picking up Steam." Tacoma News Tribune (Tacoma), March 15, 1979. p.3

(2) Tucker, Rob. "Mayor Clamly* Faces Failure of His Fair Bill." Tacoma News Tribune (Tacoma), April 5, 1979. 

*The word "Clamly" was used in this article's title since just before Parker's bill failed the legislators debated geoduck digging regulations.