History of Point Defiance Park
U.S. President Grover Cleveland signs a bill granting Tacoma the right to use the 640 acres of Point Defiance, an undeveloped federal military reservation, as a city park. Without any amenities, only seasonal campers on the beach use Point Defiance as a park at this time. Photo courtesy of Metro Parks Tacoma Archive.
Developers complete a streetcar line to Point Defiance Park. Tacoma's Board of Park Commissioners hire crews to clear sections of the park near the Pearl Street entrance for gardens and picnic areas. Photo courtesy of Herbert Hunt's Tacoma - Its History and Its Builders.
Work crews erect a rustic log bridge to link the garden and picnic areas at the entrance of the park with the old growth forested acreage near the Point. The bridge was dismantled in the early 1930s and replaced with an earthen roadbed. Photo courtesy of Metro Parks Tacoma Archive.
The Board of Park Commissioners authorizes construction of the Lodge for park superintendent Ebenezer R. Roberts and his family. Built with peeled polished logs and a veranda encircling the house, the Lodge remained an official staff residence until 1980. Photo courtesy of Metro Parks Tacoma Archive.
A permanent zoo begins with construction of the first bear pit. Herds of elk, deer and bison were also featured in the park, a collection that developed into the present Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Photo courtesy of Jean Insel Robeson.
The Board of Park Commissioners authorizes construction of the first section of the Point Defiance Greenhouse, which served as a propagation and exhibition greenhouse until its removal in the 1920s. Photo courtesy of Metro Parks Tacoma Archives.
Concessionaire Edwin D. Ferris builds an octagonal Pavilion on the Point Defiance Park waterfront, providing boat rentals, refreshment stands and a restaurant famed for its clam chowder and expansive views of Puget Sound. The Pavilion also served as the landing for passenger ferries bringing visitors for a day in the park. The octagonal structure was torn down in the 1930s. Photo courtesy of Metro Parks Tacoma Archives.
The federal government formally grants title of Point Defiance Park to the city of Tacoma on March 3. The prime mover of this legislation is Congressman Francis W. Cushman, who is honored in 1925 for his efforts with a statue near the park. Photo courtesy of Metro Parks Tacoma Archives.
The Nereides Baths open on Memorial Day. Tacoma's first indoor swimming pool, or natatorium as it was then called, had Puget Sound salt water heated to 80 degrees and rental bathing suits, all for 10 cents. The Nereides Baths closed and the building was torn down in the early 1930s. Photo courtesy of Metro Parks Tacoma Archives.
The Pagoda opens at the streetcar station, replacing an earlier rustic shelter. A luxurious amenity at Point Defiance Park, it featured a heated waiting room, a first aid station, and marble restrooms staffed by attendants who handed out towels during the summer season. Photo courtesy of Metro Parks Tacoma Archives.
Development of the Point Defiance Park waterfront expands with a major addition adjacent to the octagonal Pavilion. This arched concrete structure, also referred to as the Pavilion, eventually boasted three stories and included a restaurant, aquarium and housing for park employees. Photo courtesy of Eric Swanson.
Federal work relief programs during the Great Depression - such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) - accomplish major projects in Point Defiance Park, including the restoration of Fort Nisqually and a new Boathouse to replace the 1903 octagonal Pavilion. The CCC maintains a winter camp in Point Defiance Park for two years, housing up to 200 workers. Photo courtesy of Metro Parks Tacoma Archives.
Funland Amusement Park opens on Memorial Day. Privately operated, this attraction provided an escape during the years of the Great Depression and World War II. The Point Defiance Riding Academy also opened in 1933, giving horseback riders the opportunity to enjoy the parks' bridle paths. Both attractions closed in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Eric Swanson.
Point Defiance Park, its forests, gardens and many attractions serve the World War II homefront as a convenient and affordable local getaway during a time of gas rationing. Army Air Force crash boat rescue crews were stationed at the waterfront Pavilion during the war years in the event of a downed aircraft in Puget Sound.
Point Defiance Zoo adds the Children's Farm Zoo, exhibiting cows, chickens, rabbits, ducks and goats, encouraging iteractin with city children. Care of the farm animals was a cooperative venture between zoo staff and chapters of the Future Farmers of America.Photo courtesy of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.
Never Never Land, a children's storybook attraction, and Camp 6, a logging museum, arrive in Point Defiance Park, operated as private ventures. Photo courtesy of Metro Parks Tacoma Archives.
Metro Parks Tacoma voters pass a bond issue for wide-ranging zoological improvements, and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium focuses its animal collection on a Pacific Rim Theme. Photo courtesy of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.
A major fire destroys the Boathouse Pavilion complex dating from the 1920s. The Boathouse is rebuilt and opens in 1988 with expanded facilities for boat storage and rentals. An octagonal-shaped restaurant - now Anthony's - recalls the original 1903 Pavilion. Photo courtesy of Metro Parks Tacoma Archives.
Point Defiance Park continues to develop as Tacoma's crown jewel of public spaces, fostering partnerships with horticultural, zoological, maritime, conservation and cultural organizations to ensure the vitality of this magnificent peninsula. Photo courtesy of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.
Download and read a narrative history of Point Defiance Park by Doreen Beard Simpkins and Bill Rhind.