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History of Wright Park

Charles B. WrightIn 1886 the Tacoma Land Company, under the leadership of its president, Charles B. Wright, donated a parcel of land approximately 20 acres in size to the City of Tacoma for the sole purpose of being developed as a public park. His mandate was that 'upon condition nevertheless that said land shall forever be exclusively used as and appropriated for the uses and purposes of a public park.' From this original 20-acre parcel the park quickly grew to its current size of 27 acres filling out 10 city blocks.

Historical development of the park has been summarized into four distinct periods of development as follows:

1886-1890 Park Design and Development
  • Tacoma Land Company donated land to the City of Tacoma for the development of a park in 1886.
  • Edward O. Schwagerl was commissioned to design Wright Park.
  • Land was cleared of trees, stumps, and underbrush, and low lying areas were filled to create the shape of the park.
1890-1930 Expansion and the Conservatory
  • Additional land located at the northeast corner of the park (between Division Ave. and S 1st St.) was acquired by the city in 1891.
  • E.R. Roberts was hired in 1890 to continue the work Schwagerl started.
  • Yakima Avenue was developed as a curving park road, incorporated as part of the park instead of dividing it into two parts.
  • Street sidewalks next to the park were abolished and replaced with a gravel walk.
  • A one and a half acre lake was constructed and named Bird Lake. A bridge was then built over the lake.
  • Over 350 varieties of trees were planted, containing specimens of nearly every flora in the United States and Europe.
  • Col. Clinton P. Ferry (a Tacoma resident) donated statues collected during his travels in Europe in 1891. These included: the Greek Maidens ('Fannie and Annie') which flank the Division Avenue entry, and two white stone Brussels Lions located at the 6th Street entrance.
  • Two additional parcels of land (at South I St. and 6th Ave.) were acquired by the City (1902 to 1910) to complete the present-day configuration of the park at 27 acres.
  • In 1908 the Seymour Conservatory was opened through a generous gift from William W. Seymour, President of the Metropolitan Park Board and later Mayor of Tacoma.
  • In the 1920s, with the growing popularity of motorized vehicles, concern grew over the safety of Yakima Avenue. Fearing that it would become a speedway for automobiles, the Board of Commissioners recommended closing the road with partial and then final closure coming in 1927.
  • Cedar stump bandstand c. 1925A bandstand created from the stump of a mammoth cedar tree was placed within the park and used for a number of formal and civic occasions and celebrations (the exact location is unknown). The bandstand was destroyed by fire in 1930.
  • A baseball ground, children's playground, and fruit stand were located near one another in the center of the park.
  • Numerous statuary and memorials were located throughout the park including the Spanish Cannon (1900); the Henrick Ibsen Bust (1913); the Gettysburg Juniper Tree (1914); the Grant Memorial Tree (1922); and the Tacoma Mother Tree (1929).
1930-1960 Activity and Facility Expansion
  • A regulation size bowling green was added in 1934 at the 6th Avenue end of the park, taking out the Grant Memorial tree in the process.
  • Numerous activities were added during this period including horseshoe lanes, shuffleboard courts, a wading pool, and a children's playground. Features that were present, but later disappeared include a baseball field, a bandstand, and a 12'x12' The wading pool was a popular feature during the 1920sconcrete checkers board.
  • In the late 1930s, the Central Division Maintenance HQ Building and Restroom Building were built through the Work Progress Administration (WPA) program.
  • In 1953 a Senior Center was built as an addition to the Central Division Maintenance HQ Building.
  • Additional trees and memorials added during this period included six Japanese Flowering Cherries and five Japanese Dogwoods (1936), a giant sequoia planted in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the US Constitution (1937), and the USC&GS Marker Stone (1952).
1960-2004 Renovations and Maintenance
  • A new restroom facility was built adjacent to the playground and wading pool in 1961.
  • A number of original trees and plantings were destroyed during the 'Columbus Day Storm' of 1962.
  • In 1979 the Tacoma Community Development Department built an addition on the Senior Center, doubling the space.
  • Through the City of Tacoma's Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA) program the park received two pieces of artwork by local artist, Larry Anderson: the Leaf (1976) and Trilogy (1978).
  • Basketball courts were constructed.
  • A new bridge over the duck ponds was designed and built by Metro Parks staff in 2000.
  • A re-designed playground was added in 2003.