Titlow primed for historical designation

Titlow Lodge, which dates back more than a century, received a full endorsement for historical designation by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and will now face a vote by the City Council. Photo courtesy of Metro Parks Tacoma

The lodge at Tacoma’s Titlow Park is one step away from becoming historically designated. The nomination has unanimously cleared the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and is now headed to the Tacoma City Council for a formal vote.

“This is way too long in coming,” University of Washington-Tacoma professor and historical consultant Michael Sullivan said about the nomination.

Titlow Lodge opened in 1911 and served as a posh waterfront hotel owned by attorney turned hotelier Aaron R. Titlow. It was first called the Hotel Hesperides and was a three-and-a-half story resort designed by noted architect Fredrick Health to be styled as a Pacific Northwest version of a Swiss chalet at a cost of $50,000. The 30-room resort included first-class amenities that were state of the art for the era, including bathrooms that had hot-and-cold running water, a billiard room, a barber shop, and 22 Tiffany lanterns in the dining rooms where guests ate eggs, chicken, vegetables, fruit and berries that were grown on the nearby family farm. Recreational options at the resort included tennis, swimming in the private lagoon, rides in a glass-bottom boat and enjoying the views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains in the distance. Beachcombers dug clams, fished or simply watched ships and pleasure boats sail or trains chug along the waterfront tracks.

Not only was the resort a location for members of the upper crust from the area to relax in luxury, but also for middle-class travelers who took their motorcars out for Sunday drives. The hotel, after all, was located right next to the pre-Narrows bridge ferry dock that shuttled people from Tacoma to Gig Harbor. A steady flow of travelers had leisure brunches or evening cocktails in the restaurant while they waited for the Washington Navigation Co.’s water shuttles to arrive.

Photo courtesy of Metro Parks Tacoma

But the hotel’s time was short lived as “the place” to stay for the monied set of Tacoma, operating for a decade before it closed. Titlow’s death in 1923 then led to the land and hotel shifting over to Metro Parks Tacoma, which renamed the building Titlow Lodge in his honor.

Metro Parks had eyes to tear down the hotel in 1937, but those plans paused when local citizens rallied to save the former hotel. The top floor guest rooms were removed as part of a Works Projects Administration project that renovated the lower floors to be used as public spaces.

The location was set to become an out-of-the-way neighborhood once the first Narrows Bridge made the Skansie brothers’ private ferry system obsolete when the span opened in 1940. The state bought out their contract when the bridge opened only to then pen another lucrative, no-bid deal when the first “Galloping Gertie” collapsed months after its grand unveiling.

“They made money on both ends of the deal,” Sullivan said.

The bridge collapse made the Titlow ferry terminal a transportation hub once again, until the second span opened a decade later. By that time the area had become a residential neighborhood for families drawn by the water views, open spaces and quick access to State Route 16.

The often-renovated Titlow Lodge is now commonly rented out for weddings and receptions as well as for summer camps at the 75-acre park that now offers basketball courts, playfields, trails, spray grounds, playgrounds and picnic areas. Metro Parks Tacoma will be updating the master plan for the lodge and the parks land later this year. A display about Titlow, its history and park amenities will be viewable at an open house at 6 p.m. on March 15 at the Foss Waterway Seaport, alongside those of other waterfront properties.

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