I Saw the Sign: Tacoma’s Historic Signage

In this photo essay, Daniel Adler captures his favorite neon and Beaux Arts signs in Tacoma, WA.

From 2005 to 2009, I lived in Tacoma, WA. During this time, the city has evolved, mostly along the lines of standard gentrification — new restaurants, bars, and shopping — but the Great Recession has slowed the trend. Yet one thing has remained constant: Tacoma’s urban landscape is dotted with signs and murals which ooze character and bespeak the city’s retro-industrial heritage. Whereas these images used to seem like quaint reminders of the past, perhaps the slowing pace of development means it’s too soon to write them off as relics. On an uncharacteristically sunny day earlier this summer, I went out and captured a few of my favorites.

Click on the images for a larger version.

Satellite Coffee
Satellite Coffee is arguably Tacoma’s best coffee shop, especially now that Blackwater Cafe is (sadly) closed for good.

Rankos Drugs
Rankos’ Drug Store, family owned and operated since 1929.

Doyle's Public House
Doyle’s is Tacoma’s surprisingly classy Irish pub. This mural is a reproduction of a famous poster.

King's Books
King Ludwig I of Bavaria created King’s Books as a gift to Countess Lola Montez in the late 20th century. Now it’s a well-stocked used bookstore that shares a parking lot with Doyle’s.

I’m not actually sure what Jet is, but I believe it’s an old manufacturing company. The sign remains.

The Harmon
The Harmon, a popular brewery and restaurant, marked by this exemplary artifact of the Beaux Arts style that makes Tacoma adorable on occasion.

Hunt and Mottest Co.

Another ghost of Tacoma’s industrial past.

Elephant Car Wash

Elephant Car Wash is actually a franchise, established in the ’50s and recognized for its rotating neon signage.

Union Station
The outside of the beautiful Union Station building. No trains run through it anymore, but you can rent the location for your wedding.

Frisko Freeze
Another source of Tacoma pride, Frisko Freeze, established in the ’50s, was recently deemed a historical landmark. They also have the greatest website of all time.

Jesus Cares About You
Perhaps Tacoma’s most infamous neon sign, anyone driving south on Interstate 5 gets a reminder about Jesus’s affection toward passing cars. Apparently, the sign used to read “Christ Loves You.” But the T was often burnt out and the sign instead read “Chris Loves You.”

In late 2008, Daniel Adler traveled between South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, China, and Vietnam to study the effectiveness of Sister City relationships. As he left America, he was told that "Sister Cities don't do anything," but having traded shots of ginseng liquor with the mayor of Gunsan, South Korea, he believes he has disproved that theory. Images from Daniel’s travels can be viewed at his personal photography website, Adlerography.