Vintage postcards of Tacoma’s historic parks added to online archive

A vintage scene of McKinnley Park. postcard image courtesy Metro Parks and Swanson collection

Metro Parks Tacoma has added more than 500 new images to its online catalog: vintage park postcards acquired from collector Eric Swanson in 2010.

These are unique views of seven of Tacoma’s historic parks, dating back to the 1890s. Some include notes written by past park visitors.

The online postcard catalog provides images and detailed descriptions of each card.

“The Swanson postcard collection is full of hidden gems with these images,” said Curator of History and Culture Claire Keller-Scholz. “Now the public has a chance to see their parks in a totally new way, getting to see how places like Lincoln Park used to look before the freeways were built.”

Postcard collector Eric Swanson grew up hearing stories about Tacoma’s past from his father; the collector always appreciated and was curious about “what was.” In 1999, while a student at Curtis Junior High School, he discovered his first postcard on eBay, and was immediately hooked.

“Postcards allowed the stories I had heard to take on another dimension, answering questions as well as adding new mysteries until the next piece of the puzzle could be obtained,” he said. “The images were a true, fixed, glimpse into the past.”

Driven to complete the collection, Swanson found images not only online, but also at antique and ephemera shows, antique stores, malls, and through occasional trades with private collectors. Over time, he developed a mission: to bring these pieces of history together and return them to Tacoma from elsewhere around the country and, in some cases, the world. Ultimately, he amassed more than 500 postcards depicting historic park scenes.

In October 2010, Swanson arranged to sell 474 postcards of Tacoma’s historic parks to Metro Parks Tacoma for its permanent archival collection. Historians for Metro Parks had previously been granted permission to use some of the images, but the 2010 acquisition included rare images and postcards wholly new to Metro Parks.

“This collection is fun because it shows us a little of how people viewed Tacoma’s parks through the years,” said Keller-Scholz, “This is especially true of the ones that were mailed. They also show how well-traveled these simple Tacoma postcards could become.”

The online catalog also includes selections from Metro Parks Tacoma’s “Art and Artifacts” collection, featuring detailed descriptions of artwork, historic structures, and unique park elements from sites throughout Tacoma.

Go online at to view the postcards park by park, or randomly.

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