How well do you know Proctor District?

Dennis house at 910 S. Proctor St.
Credit: Tacoma Public Library Northwest Room’s Digital Collection

The popular Proctor District is known to many Tacoma residents and visitors, but do we really know Proctor? What or who is it named for? Read on to learn more, from this profile written by Historic Tacoma volunteer, Sarah Hilsendeger.

John Gardiner Proctor was born in April 1854 in Ontario, Canada. According to records, Proctor started practicing in Tacoma in 1885 when he partnered with Charles N. Daniels. Their office was located on Pacific Avenue between 13th and 15th streets in the Olds block. They partnered until 1888.

Next, Proctor worked with Oliver Perry Dennis from 1888 to 1901. During their partnership, they had offices in various locations. In 1889, they were located at 20 Hotel Fife block. In 1890, their office is listed at 1111 Pacific Ave. (the Barlow Catlin building). Later, in 1892 they moved to 528 Washington building. Then, in 1900 Proctor lists his office and residence as 920 S. Proctor. He had acquired two acres to build his home in 1890 on what was then Ester Street. It was during this time that Proctor designed the neighboring house for Dennis at 910 S. Proctor. These were two of the first homes in the North End of Tacoma. Prior to this, the family home was on South G Street.

His last Tacoma partner was William Farrell. They partnered in 1901 and worked at the National Bank of Commerce Building in Tacoma. The last documented project that they designed together was at 910 South 8th Street in 1908.

Proctor married his wife Zellah, or “Nellie,” and had three daughters, Harriet, Margaret, and Zillah. In a 1976 Tacoma News Tribune article, his daughter Zillah Proctor Stevens recalled: “During hard times in the 1890s, there was no building activity so my father built a house on 40 acres of land on McNeil Island. My sisters and I would hobnob with the prisoners, who, I remember, wore black and white striped suits.”

Proctor was very well known in the community, even designing the church that he was a member of, the Epworth Methodist Episcopal Church in Tacoma. Due to his prominence, the city named a telephone exchange after Proctor. The city also honored him by choosing the name Proctor when Jefferson and Ester Streets were joined during surveying and grading the street system because his house stood on the south end of the street. Considered an “aggressive pioneer” in the field he also served for a period as Washington State Architect.

Proctor died on Feb. 8, 1925, in Puyallup.

Significant buildings designed by John Proctor include:

  • Pierce County Courthouse, 1890-92 (demolished)
  • West Coast Grocery Building, 1890-91, and Birmingham Hay & Seed Company Building, 1903
  • Western Washington Industrial Exposition Building, 1890-91 (destroyed by fire in 1898; at the time, it was the largest frame building on the West Coast)
  • Western Washington Hospital for the Insane, 1886-1916

You can learn more about John Proctor at You can also pick up a copy of “Tacoma’s Proctor District” by Caroline Gallacci and Bill Evans at the Pacific Northwest Shop or at the Tacoma Historical Society Museum & Research Center at 919 Pacific Ave.

Historic Tacoma is a local nonprofit organization focused on the history of Tacoma’s built environment. Its mission is to promote, conserve and enhance Tacoma’s architectural character through education, advocacy and preservation. Visit their website at

Courtesy of Michael Lafreniere, Historic Tacoma


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