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Photo from Rod Thomas

Stadium High School 1906 —

Tacoma, Washington 

 For information about the 100 year celebration, go to:









Stadium Pictures


The Building

The 100 year celebration of Stadium High School was held in September of 2006. The Centennial of the Bowl in September of 2010.The school has been a source of tremendous pride, not only to its students, alums, teachers and administrators, but also to countless other Tacoma citizens who have enjoyed public events in the Bowl or simply stopped to marvel at the Old-World beauty of the Castle and its stunning natural setting.

The building was originally intended by its financiers, the Northern Pacific Railroad Company and Tacoma Land Company, to be one of the finest luxury hotels on the Pacific Coast far better then Seattle hotels or any other cheap hotels at the time. In 1890 they purchased a nine-acre tract of land on a high bluff overlooking Commencement Bay, and solicited architectural designs and bids for the building. The winning architects, Hewitt and Hewitt of Philadelphia, submitted with their bid a painting of their planned edifice in French Renaissance architectural style. (That painting hangs today in Stadium's main office.) Some sources have claimed that the building is modeled after an actual chateau near Tours (southwest of Paris) or Chaumont (southeast of Paris), but neither claim has been verified.

Construction of the hotel--known both as the Olympic and the Tourist--began in 1891, but came to a screeching halt in 1893 in the wake of a nationwide financial panic and depression. The unfinished shell was then used to store lumber, until a devastating fire (of suspicious origin) gutted the building in October 1898. That was apparently the last straw for Northern Pacific Railroad, which gave up the idea of finishing the hotel and began taking bricks from the burned-out structure in 1901 to build train depots in Montana and Idaho. Fortunately, a number of Tacoma citizens had other ideas for the building.

Since the early 1880s, Tacoma's high school students had been crammed into various buildings along with younger kids. Legend has it that three former members of the school board, businessmen Conrad Hoska and Alfred Lister and attorney Eric Rosling, seeing the ill-fated Olympic/Tourist Hotel being slowly dismantled, suggested to current board member W. B. Coffee that the structure be converted into a high school. Coffee immediately consulted the school architect, Frederick Heath, who determined that it was feasible. A deal to purchase the property was quickly made with the owners, but a special election was needed to fund construction. The first election failed in 1903, but a second one in 1904 passed, and the project was completed a few years later at a total cost of approximately $500,000. The Tacoma School District had paid $34,500 for the property.

(Tacoma's Stadium High School opens in September 1906 HistoryLink.org)

Tourist Hotel being rebuilt as Stadium High School c1904

The first students began classes in what was then called Tacoma High School on September 10, 1906.


The Castle is built so solidly that it is considered virtually earthquake-proof. (The Bowl is another matter, of course--see below.) Steel beams in the building's foundation are embedded in solid rock. The walls are five feet thick at the base and 18" thick at the top. Iron bands 3" wide and 3/8" thick encircle the foundation and every floor. Two stone slabs which used to form the steps at the building's entrance were cut from a single huge boulder found near Fern Hill, and took two days to be hauled to the construction site by a 30-horse team. (Unfortunately it became necessary to replace those slabs with concrete in 1980 due to water leaks around the foundation.)


(Circa 1915 per Dspace at University of Washington)

 Ships loading at the Oriental dock pm 1909

As Tacoma's population grew, the school board determined that a second high school was needed, and chose a site near Lincoln Park in 1911. In light of that development, what had thus far been called Tacoma High School was officially renamed Stadium High School in 1913 in honor of its new Bowl (dedicated in 1910, as described below).


The Castle has seen many renovations. The auditorium was enlarged and remodeled in 1912. In 1913, Heath drew up plans for a three-story building in the style of a medieval fortress, to be located between the main building and the tennis courts and to contain the boys' and girls' gyms. When that plan proved too expensive, though, the gyms were instead built underneath the central courtyard.

The roof was replaced (with asbestos tiles!) in 1957, and copper finials (caps) on the turrets were substituted for the old iron ones. In 1958-59, the library and administrative offices were relocated, the two small gyms were converted into one large one, and repairs were made on the fire escapes, floors and windows. In the 1960s the cafeteria was remodeled and enlarged, providing a sweeping view of the bay. The auditorium was also renovated: desks were removed, theater seats installed and the stage enlarged. In 1974-75, the Industrial Arts and Science Building was erected across E Street and named after Angelo Giaudrone, a longtime superintendent of Tacoma schools.

The dilapidated swimming pool was finally replaced in 1988 by an Olympic-sized one built 45 feet below the surface of E Street. The brick courtyard was then extended over the pool area to join the Industrial Arts Building. That project cost approximately $5 million. (Plans circa 1973 had proposed building the pool where the parking lot sits. Knowing now what eventually became of E Street on that block, it's probably fortuitous that those pool plans were never implemented.)

Over the years, Stadium students have created and installed stained glass windows, metal sculptures, ceramic mosaics and other works of art, enhancing the beauty of the building. A large glass bowl created by Dale Chihuly was donated by a Stadium Booster and is displayed outside the school library.

Since 1977, Stadium has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Bowl

Next to the bluff upon which the school was constructed lay a deep, thickly wooded ravine known as Old Woman's Gulch, named for the women who lived there as squatters in little shacks and were said to be the widows of dead fishermen, loggers and/or longshoremen. When the Olympic/Tourist Hotel was under construction, there was talk of converting the gulch into a botanical garden for the amusement of hotel guests. The idea of creating an open-air athletic stadium there was apparently first raised in April 1907 by Charles Cutter of the Tacoma Boosters, who had just returned from an inspirational tour of ancient amphitheaters in Greece. Frederick Heath and others who had championed the transformation of the charred hotel into a high school now eagerly promoted Cutter's concept of a magnificent stadium. (The women squatters were eventually forced out by the stadium's construction; their subsequent fate is unknown.)

A plaque installed at the southwest entrance to the Bowl by Stadium students in May 1993 describes the construction process:

Construction began in June 1909 [April, actually]. A steam shovel and sluicing pipes moved more than 180,000 [cubic] yards of dirt down the sides of the gulch until it half-filled the great cavity to form a level playfield of two and a half acres. Thousands of board feet of lumber were hand cut to make the forms for the seats, which were molded in concrete. The original seats (with an estimated seating capacity of 32,000*) rose 31 tiers high, with the top seat 52 feet above the field level.

(*Estimates of the original seating capacity vary widely, from 23,000 to 40,000. The largest crowd ever to fill the stadium was said to number 70,000, but that would have required thousands of extra chairs and bleachers, and probably included standing spectators as well. Parking has always been a problem at the Bowl, but until the 1930s a streetcar line ran on E and North 2nd streets, easing traffic congestion.")

Dedication ceremonies for the new stadium on June 10-11, 1910 were extravagant: as many as 50,000 people from all over the state attended the festivities; 10,000 schoolchildren performed a variety of massed drills and folk dances; wrestling, tumbling and jujitsu exhibitions were featured, as well as a track and field meet; a march composed for the occasion by Paul Engell was played by a brass band; and a song composed by Carrie Shaw Rice and Mrs. W. H. Opie was sung by a choir of 900 children. (The title of that song, "Tacoma, the Rose of the West," suggests that the city had not yet become infamous for smelter and pulp mill aromas.)

Unfortunately, drainage problems plagued the Bowl from day one. The first football games played in September 1910 rendered the rain-soaked field a "mudhole," so the remaining games that season had to be played elsewhere. There was much public criticism of the contractor, who had originally promised to complete the stadium by August 1909, but whose work had remained unfinished even at the time of the dedication ceremonies in 1910. The school board was also lambasted for its weak monitoring of the contractor. But when a group of Stadium seniors confronted the board with a petition complaining about delays in fixing the field, the board chairman retorted that they "ought to be spanked." Construction of the Bowl's concrete stands and repair of its drainage system finally ended in April 1911, at a total cost of approximately $160,000. (A retaining wall for the Bowl's eastern edge appeared in early drawings, but was never built.)

For decades the Bowl served as the forum for many important city events. A re-enactment of the burning of Rome in A.D. 64 was staged in the Bowl in September 1911, preceded by "gladiator combat" and races between horse-drawn chariots. In the early years, competitions between marching bands were very popular, regularly filling the stadium to overflowing. The appearance of John Philip Sousa and his military band was especially memorable.

Every July Fourth, tens of thousands would gather to watch fireworks shows, augmented in the 1920s and '30s by searchlight displays from battleships anchored in the bay. Grade school children from all over the city gathered each May in the Bowl for athletic programs. And every Thanksgiving Day, Stadium's football team went up against its cross-town rival, Lincoln.

Louis Armstrong performed in the Bowl, as did famous opera singers. Many national luminaries spoke to capacity crowds on various occasions, including Gen. John Pershing, France's Marshal Foch, Babe Ruth, Rev. Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan, and presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Warren Harding.

Sadly, the Bowl proved to be vulnerable to earthquakes and floods, in part due to substandard construction methods (some not discovered until the 1950s). In January 1932, a large sewer pipe broke (perhaps due to an earthquake), and the resulting flood opened a large hole in the Bowl's eastern end, sending tons of mud onto the railroad tracks below.

A major quake in 1949 caused so much damage to the steel and concrete stands that the Bowl was declared unsafe for use. Throughout the 1950s there were calls by many disgruntled citizens to dismantle the Bowl for good. But in 1960 the school board authorized renovation of 5,000 seats. (You'll recall that during our years at Stadium, huge portions of the stands remained condemned and fenced off.)

The classes of 1976, 1977 and 1978 worked hard to help raise $80,000 to install "Tiger Turf" in the Bowl. The fundraising campaign attracted donations of lumber, tubing and wiring from local companies, as well as cash donations and revenues from the sale of commemorative coins, t-shirts, and one-foot-square pieces of turf. Dedication of the new field with its elaborate drainage system took place with great fanfare on May 18, 1976. Students returning in September, though, were dismayed to see that much of the Tiger Turf had turned an ugly brown, apparently due to mistakes in fertilizer application (soon corrected).

In late 1977 the Bowl was awarded a federal grant of $2 million for renovation. The western section of seats was removed entirely. Stairways were added and reinforced. The remaining seats were rebuilt to accommodate 15,000 people, roughly half the original capacity. Rededication ceremonies were held on September 12, 1980. However, on October 6, 1981, another major disaster occurred. A storm drain under E Street burst under the pressure of a heavy rainstorm, sending enormous quantities of mud into the Bowl and wiping out a large chunk of its eastern edge.

Some citizens argued once more that the Bowl should be abandoned, but others advocating repair won out in the end. A full block of E Street was removed to permit the steep angle of the Bowl's western side to be reduced. The floor of the Bowl was re-graded, and structural reinforcements, a new track and artificial turf (to the dismay of some) were added. On October 25, 1985, a fully renovated Bowl was dedicated once again, and remains to this day (knock on wood) a spectacular site.

(Tacoma's Stadium Bowl opens on July 10, 1910 HistoryLink.org)


"An earlier version of this essay was written by Janice Lindeman Perry for the 50-year reunion of her Stadium class of 1942. David Lind Perry revised and updated her essay in July 1997 for the 20-year reunion of the class of 1977, drawing primarily on a massive collection of old newspaper articles on file in the Stadium principal's office, compiled by Mark Scharmer of the U. of Puget Sound class of 1989.  Eric Londgren, Stadium class of 1978, made some helpful editorial changes to this essay in 1998.  For those interested in the social aspects of Stadium history, the Tacoma Public Library has a collection of "Tahoma" annual yearbooks, and Stadium has old copies of the "World" student paper."

This is a copy from David Lind Perry's web site: http://home.earthlink.net/~davidlperry/stadium.htm with added material. 


Rebirth of a Commencement Bay chateau

Merritt+Pardini Architects



Elevations, Sections and Plans, on a total of 21 drawings, were produced in 13 weeks of office work. With photogrammetric and laser scanning measurements, all and every partition of the large building was measured and checked against the overall drawings and accuracy, providing homogeneity and reliability of all information.

(From AsFound.com)



The Fire

[i]"October 11th, 1898 at 7:15 p.m.

Alarm was sounded from box 39 for a fire in the Tourist Hotel, on E street extending from North First to North Second. This was a five-story brick building about 90x400 feet.

The inside of this building was all wood, with temporary floors of rough boards, laid about two inches apart, allowing a draught from bottom to top stories. There were also stored large piles of lumber and shingles in different parts of the buildings which added greatly to the assistance of the fire. The building being vacant and having no watchman the fire had gained great headway before being discovered and an alarm sent in. When the department arrived on the scene, the entire south wing or south half of the building was burning fiercely from basement to roof. Special alarms were immediately sent in calling all the departments, except Hose Co. No. 2, and the efforts of the department concentrated at the center or main entrance to try and cut the fire off from the north half, as the fire was working its way with great rapidity in that direction. There were six streams on the fire and five were directed at this point, three inside and two turned through the windows and on the roof. The men on the inside remained on the different floors with the streams until the roof was falling in on them and were driven out by the intense heat and lack of water and not enough streams to bear upon the large area of fire sufficient to check it. After it was seen that it was not possible to stop the fire at this point, and the fire had worked its way into the north wing, the efforts of the department were directed to the west end of the north wing and boiler rooms to prevent the fire from spreading across the street to surrounding property. While working at this end of the building three men working with a stream on a ladder in one of the windows were knocked out of the window to the ground by a piece of timber falling from above, two being slightly injured and one taken to the hospital where he recovered in about ten days. This building was a large structure and was situated in an isolated part of the city in a strictly residence district, causing the majority of the fire department to travel from one to three miles and partly up hill, requiring some time to concentrate the department at this point. The department was greatly hampered by lack of water caused by small water mains in this locality. There were in service at this fire four engines and one truck and required 5,000 feet of hose to get six streams on the fire. On account of the distance of hydrants from the building nine hours' work was required to subdue this fire. Cause of the fire supposed incendiary. Loss estimated at $150,000. No insurance."

[ii]"The arsonist had dumped large quantities of naphtha on a pile of shingles in the south wing of the hotel, still under construction, set a match to it, and vanished. Within seconds the whole structure exploded in flames."

[iii]Tacoma's Stadium High School opens in September 1906.

In September 1906, Tacoma's Stadium High School opens for classes. The massive building on N 1st Street and N E had been rescued from three disasters -- a halt in construction due to the economic Panic of 1893; a devastating fire; and demolition. The French chateau style building, designed by Hewitt and Hewitt, was intended as a palatial hotel by the Northern Pacific Railroad's Tacoma Land Company. The Panic of 1893 put a stop to that dream. The hotel-shell became the railroad's lumber and shingle warehouse until an 1898 fire gutted the building. Two Tacoma citizens managed to halt demolition and the Tacoma School Board turned it into a much-needed high school.

The Grandest Grand Hotel

Construction began in 1891. The hotel was to be so grand, so elegant, so ornate, so artful, so elaborate, so huge, so splendid that other grand hotels would blush with shame at their own silly pretensions. Ruth Kirk quotes the lumberman Thomas Ripley on this point:

"[The hotel would] make the Frontenac in Quebec and the Canadian Pacific Railroad Hotel in Banff blush for their modest proportions '. [Blueprints] covered desks and the floor. We measured baseboard and casing by the mile. ... We forsaw a jungle of carving in rare and exotic woods. It was a riot of millwork" (Kirk).

From Dreams to Ashes

But the Panic of 1893 shot down the dream of the grandest of all grand hotels. The walls and roofs were complete and that was all. The shell became a warehouse for three or four years until a fire in the lumber and shingles stored there made the sky glow as far away as Seattle. Citizens came from all around, even by boat, to help put out the roaring blaze, to bring food and any help they could.

Once the fire was out, the railroad began demolition. Bricks numbering 73,300 were removed from the facade and sent to Missoula and to Wallace, Idaho, to make depots.

In a Day's Work

In the midst of this demolition process two men happened by, saw that this great building could serve as a high school, went to find the architect Frederick Heath, brought him to the site, called a meeting in the early afternoon, and stopped demolition by evening. First classes opened at the beginning of the school year in 1906.

[i] Tenth Annual Report of the Chief of Fire Department of the City of Tacoma for the Year Ending December 31st, 1898

[ii] 100 Years of Firefighting- by Clyde Talbot and Ralph Decker Pyro Press -1981


The Pipe Organ

Stadium High School had a two-manual Estey brand pipe organ (opus #1315), that was previously installed in 1914 in Tacoma's Colonial Theatre by the "Moore Instrument Company." In 1917, the organ was moved to Stadium High School in Tacoma. Three stops and traps (percussion effects such as cymbal, drum, tambourine, etc.) were added. Current status of the Stadium organ is unknown.

Scene from "Money," the Stadium High School Senior Class play, 1920

Stadium High School Principal Mr. Ball at the console

(Organ photographs from the collection of Jeffrey J. Ryan, AIA)  

Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society

South Sound Photo Album

Movie: "10 Things I Hate About You" Transcript