Tacoma Clock Challenge

A $5000 Award for Design and Innovative Excellence

A point in time
Sponsored by SURGE TACOMA
Old City Hall in 2018

Old City Hall

Tacoma’s Old City Hall is the most recognized historical property in the city. This 125-year-old Italianate-style structure will be developed into a mixed-use facility with restaurants, bars, an event area in the clock tower, residential, office and retail space with a scheduled opening in 2021. It is destined to become a new hub for entertainment, business and urban living.

Built in 1893, this Historic Landmark served as the City Hall until 1959. It underwent new owners in both the public and private sector. OCH (Old City Hall) has been vacant since 2008 due to issues ranging from financial hardship to flooding. Surge Tacoma won a competitive bidding process with the city to bring the iconic building into the future with the latest innovations in design, while maximizing the historic preservation of the existing space. ​

Aerial view of the Port of Tacoma, 2018

Commerce and the Port of Tacoma

Historically, Tacoma’s growth developed due to its position as a seaport town. As the 19th deepest port in the world, Tacoma saw its first lumber ship in 1853. It established a pivotal relationship in 1873 when Tacoma was selected over Seattle as the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Today, the Port of Tacoma supplies almost 45,000 jobs in the county. The shipping industry is one of the major sources of commerce in the region and was critical to the historical growth of the City of Tacoma. ​

Time Matters

With Tacoma’s rich maritime legacy, the importance of time and place was crucial. Having the ability to calculate where the ship is located and an accurate time in the voyage was critical to explorers over time. Navigators needed to know the starting time of a port and the time of the ship at sea to correctly calculate longitude, distance, and geographic separation.

City founders recognized that a town clock was important to assist seafarers with accurate positioning of their ships as well as its citizens that did not own wristwatches or clocks in the late 1800s. OCH was built with a tower but no clock due to economic hardships. Once built, the city hall clock acted to help people know when to start and stop their workday, acted as a centralized meeting place, and the four faces could be seen unobstructed, far across the land and sea. Sadly, the clock has spent more time not working than the years it has. Most citizens today do not remember a period when the clock kept functional time.

The Wallace Family

The Wallace Family, one of Tacoma’s most esteemed families in the 1900s gifted the city with a 2.5 ton table clock, bell, and chimes. The four bells were fabricated by the E. Henry Company of Boston, maker of the Liberty Bell. They made the gift in memory of their 12 y.o. daughter Mildred, who died suddenly in 1904. Wallace requested that the 1904 Tacoma mayor maintain the clock in good working order. The same bells and clock face arms sit today in OCH. To learn more about the rich history of the Wallace Family (Mr. Wallace was the ambassador to France and Mrs. Wallace was daughter of a Supreme Court Justice), visit the NW room of the Tacoma Public Library.

The Moreno Family

The Morenos’ are enthusiastic supporters of many regional, national and international projects. Most recently, they were the primary sponsors for the Monarch Butterfly Challenge to develop a tag and tracking system for Monarch Butterflies as they travel from Canada to Mexico. They recognize that posing challenges to the best and brightest minds in the college setting often yields the most innovative and creative outcomes.

They also recognize the importance of restoring and repurposing historic buildings. They have a long history of purchasing buildings that have lost functionality and original grandeur. They invest and restore these buildings, often using the original materials, for an updated use with the beauty and splendour imagined by its original builders.