Monday, July 16, 2007

'Autowalk'--No Longer An Oxymoron

Downtown Tacoma is best known for its theaters, great architecture and the renaissance that has saved buildings and brought civic interest back into the city’s core--a revolution built on the principles of the New Urbanism. Yet many aspects of downtown’s development can be tracked along with the emergence and evolution of the automobile.

In early years, dealerships found a home in warehouse-like buildings with retail sales on the main ground floor and service on secondary levels. As Auto Row developed and cars evolved, so did buildings--from the ornate 1920s Packard dealership to the streamlined 1948 Buick facility, built as Mueller-Harkins and preserved today as USA of Yesterday.

“In the era of Auto Row, there was excitement and activity downtown--shopping, entertainment, enterprise--and a number of car dealers,” recalls Brett Santhuff, President of the American Institute of Architecture Students. “Masses would gather in the streets outside papered showroom windows for the unveiling of new cars. Over a season, dealers would roll out the new models--Buick, Studebaker, Ford, Pontiac, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Plymouth, Hupmobile, Packard, Dodge, Lincoln, Oldsmobile.”

Santhuff is chair for “Autowalk,” a walking tour celebrating Tacoma’s historic auto row, kicking off this Thursday, July 19th, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. The event, free and open to the public, will spotlight the architecture and the dealerships that brought Tacoma into the automotive age. The route will extend from S. 9th St. along Broadway to S. 7th St. and north on St. Helens Ave. to S. 2nd St.. Information booths, route maps, exhibits, and classic cars on display are planned.

The event is co-sponsored by Historic Tacoma and the Tacoma Historical Society with participation by members of the Puget Sound Chapter of the Buick Club of America, other local car clubs, and the LeMay Museum.

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