So, yesterday was the grand opening of the Lakewood Historical
Society’s latest temporary (there’s a new one every year) exhibit, created by yours truly and mounted last week, in my day job as a freelance museum curator. It was just fine when I arrived, in spite of my annual “everything’s fallen off the walls in the middle of the night” nightmare waking me up about five-thirty in the morning, and we had a good attendance.
The text reads as follows, since making the photos big enough for you to read directly from them would make them enormous:
The Lakes District began as a playground. As Tacoma grew, its residents began to search for an escape from the bustle and dirt of the city. The Lakes District, with its oak prairies and many lakes, and its spectacular view of nearby Mt. Tacoma, was ideal.
First came the Tacoma Country and Golf Club, the first of its kind in the West. A streetcar spur was built, creating easy access to it and to summer homes on many of the lakes, including American Lake, which later began hosting crew races.
The bustle of Tacoma came to Lakewood with the roaring of the racecars at the Tacoma Speedway. The Lakewood Ice Arena enabled many a figure skating champion.
And last but not least, Fort Steilacoom Park was created from the grounds of the old state insane asylum, becoming the center of
modern sport in Lakewood today.
Here’s a sampling of the rest of the exhibit, in case you live too far away to see it in person. If you’re not, however, the exhibit will be up for an indefinite time (months at the least — the date for the next exhibit opening hasn’t been set yet).
And the panel text again:
In 1894, four transplanted Scots leased a cow pasture in South
Tacoma to build the first golf course in the U.S. west of the Mississippi. They imported clubs and balls from Scotland, the customs inspector mistakenly labeling them as agricultural implements, saving the club some cash.
In 1904, the golfers partnered with the existing Tacoma Country Club, buying property along American Lake in what is now Lakewood, expanding the club’s offerings and selling building lots, at the newly-renamed Tacoma Country and Golf Club’s permanent home.
In spite of many setbacks – among other things, two club houses were lost to fire – the club prospered, hosting six national tournaments over the years. Most recently, the golf course won a renovation of the year award.
Sporting a new vintage feel, the course is now ready for another 120 years.
Here’s the text for the ice arena panel:
In 1936, due to his wife Mary’s interest in figure skating, Norton Clapp purchased the Oakes Ballroom on the shores of Lake Steilacoom to turn it into an ice arena.
Private at first, then open to the public, the arena became the home of the Lakewood Winter Club. Despite its drawbacks, including its non-regulation size and lack of a Zamboni, pro instructors John Johnsen, George and Leah Mueller, and Kathy Casey produced many nationally-known figure skaters including two-time Olympian Jimmy Grogan, two-time U.S. Sr. Men’s Champion Scott Davis, Women’s Jr. World Champion Jill Sawyer, and U.S. Pairs Champions Judi and Jerry Fotheringill. The club also put on an annual performance called the Ice Capers. Ice hockey and curling competitions took place here as well.
But by the mid-1970s, the arena’s condition had deteriorated to where it was no longer safe to skate there, and in 1982, its roof and one wall collapsed into Lake Steilacoom. The Lakewood Ice Arena was no more. But thanks to Mary Clapp and the Lakewood Winter Club, ice sports are still alive and well in Pierce County.
And the text for the park panel:
First, the land was part of Fort Steilacoom, the oldest fort on Puget Sound. Then it was part of the Washington Insane Asylum, now Western State Hospital, and used as a farm to help provide the inmates with food and useful labor, and as a space for a cemetery, which the group Grave Concerns maintains and improves to this day.
In 1970, the state of Washington leased 350 acres of the land to Pierce County for a park. The county built two rough ballfields, also used for growing hay, but made few other improvements. In 1996, the city of Lakewood was incorporated, and city government took an interest. A collaboration was formed. More playing fields were created and the existing ones improved. Walking trails were added, as well as a dog park and disc golf course. In 2006, the Lakewood Rotary Club and 2871 volunteers built a brand-new playground. And the Partners for Parks community group continues to raise funds to improve our grand park.
I hope you enjoyed this, and that if you can come see it in person, you will!