Imagine Tacoma – Tollefson in Wonderland

Spurred on by Daniel Blue’s Letter to Mr. and Mrs. Tollefson last week on the ‘B’ Side, Imagine Tacoma looks at what Tollefson Plaza might be if it was miniaturized and relocated to the front door of the Pantages Theater (DRINK ME down at the Rabbit Hole so to speak):

  • It creates a larger exterior break-out space for patrons of the Pantages and would allow for tables and chairs to spill out from the Lobby- providing some much needed milling space (without slipping on wet grass in your formal pumps).
  • The concrete steps provide casual seating opportunities as well as focus for a performance circle (an entry performance stage for the Famer’s Market?).
  • The plaza could be designed to allow for a smaller ‘Holiday’ ‘Tree’ to located at the center of the circle (no need for the large electrical panels anymore).

This results in a Tollefson Plaza that in appropriateness of scale and location may be a much better tribute to its namesake.

But what about the Plaza (now formerly known as Tollefson) back down on 17th Street? Well once more we go back to the looking glass (EAT ME) and grow the displaced Pantages Park to fill the large expanse of concrete (I mean – the City had a Green Ribbon Task Force to promote sustainability and we have a heat island this size in the middle of Downtown?). This ‘greened-up’ park could include:

  • A large landscape berm (Bimbo’s Berm?) that provides seating to a focused point at the center of the plaza/park – as well as an expanse of green to just sit down on the grass and eat your lunch (note: more trash cans needed).
  • Artwork from the Pantages relocated to the apex ‘tip’ of the park. – and maybe more sculpture artwork is added in coordination with TAM?
  • Street Trees added along Pacific Avenue (the ‘excuse’ by the City in development of the plaza is that street trees could not be added due to the concern of disturbing potential Native American artifacts in the four feet of soil along the street – so it begs the question, the massive foundations for the Marriott Hotel, the Convention Center and the construction of the bLINK did not disturb any potential sites? – c’mon – deal with it – and if remains are indeed found, what better use of the barren plaza than an archaeological excavation – at least is would provide some interest – and the heat on the concrete is similar to a Middle East dig).
  • Provide parallel parking along Pacific Avenue. The bLINK totally screwed up the traffic along Pacific Avenue – so bite the bullet and provide parking instead of turn lane (besides UWT is going to close down more of 19th Street access anyways). Parallel parking at least provides some sort of buffer to the street for the plaza.

Add in a Prairie TAM Companion and this Pacific Park may actually be worthy of being named after another notable Mayor of Tacoma sometime in the future.

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Mofo from the Hood

I’d like to see added some iron bar cages with tigers.

July 17, 2008 at 5:35 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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While you’re at it, just go ahead and shut off broadway from 9th to 11th to vehicular traffic.  (Except market vehicles)  Create an everyday market with sturdy chairs and tables, and put a small playground on the grass where the bubble lounge now stands.

July 17, 2008 at 10:28 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Hmmm.. I wonder how many cars could fit in Tollefson Plaza.


July 18, 2008 at 3:16 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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David Boe

Actually – with the news the Starbuck’s is closing their Rainier Pacific Building location directly across from the Convention Center (!), maybe Convention Center is not quite the econmoc engine envisioned and could quite easily be converted into the LeMay Museum and the ‘Plaza formely known as Tollefson’ used to diplay a LeMay exterior collection – oh #&@*, I thnik I just launnched a future column entry.

July 18, 2008 at 5:56 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

Hey I kind of like that idea Mr. Boe. And maybe Tollefson Plaza would look pretty spiffy if it was outlined with a string of pole to pole car lot flags; those triangular primary color plastic flags.

Which reminds me. What happened to that giant 60ft. tall blue abstract/unisex person sign that used to stand at Autohaus Volkswagen on South Tacoma Way?

That sign plus a row of vintique Fords and Chevy’s plus caged tigers would be almost too cool for the plaza.

July 18, 2008 at 8:50 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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I’ve never thought this lot was good for open public space. After going to the kunstler lecture and learning what “edge activity” was i’ve realized tollefson will never have enough of it to be a viable plaza. I think it needs a kick-ass triangle building with maybe a chunk or depression in it that can be a smaller public space. this will at least give the new space some activity. I know we already have a lot, but you can never have too many triangle buildings, can you?

July 19, 2008 at 3:36 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

I saw some photo’s on Flickr that show the plaza during the recent Tall Ships event. The open area was used as a display floor for boats. There were people around also, looking at the display and some people were sitting on the terrace.

The plaza can serve as a complementary staging area for any type of event. If a circus comes to town then the plaza could showcase circus stuff. If a local museum of any type should choose to expand its event or promote a specific feature then the plaza again offers a complementary staging area.

The staging area can be quite easily configured for lots of activities. I don’t see that as a design flaw. Was the blank canvas for the Mona Lisa a design flaw?

July 19, 2008 at 3:58 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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David Boe

So a good urban space needs to have programming in order to be successful?  The blank canvas of the Mona Lisa IS a design flaw – IF you the image only appears whenever it has programming (read funding) – all the rest of the time is it blank.  So you go to the Louvre to see it only when it is ‘out?’  The rest of the time – not much to look at – so why bother going to see it?  Unless it is to admire what ‘might be.’

July 22, 2008 at 12:21 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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crenshaw sepulveda

All of us know good urban space when we see and use it.  Much has gone into defining what good urban space is but it really comes down to a question of people using the space or not.  If a space is good people will use it.  If the space is not good people will not use it.

How does a bad urban space become a good urban space?  I think the key component is the ability to observe other people in a comfortable manner.  Comfortable is a relative term, many great urban spaces are actually stairs in an outdoor setting.  So long a a person can be comfortable the space works, but only if the second part is in place (the ability to observe others).  A good example would be a typical “stoop” in <span class=“caps”>NYC</span>.  For those not familiar with a “stoop” it is simply the stairs leading up to an apartment building.  The more people passing by on the street below, the more likely it is for people to be sitting on the stoop observing people and meeting with their friends.  A popular stoop is an improvised urban space.  There is nothing a stoop has that was created for the purpose other than people can usually sit comfortably and observe others.  Check out wikipedi on stoops

All of this is to say that people are the essential ingredient of a good urban space.  If there are no people to observe or mingle with, there isn’t going to be a good urban space.  Tollefson Plaza is virtually devoid of people to observe or mingle with. Not many walk by there and the seating is set back far from the sidewalk.

It is a very poor urban space if even transients will not use it.  It is possible for transients to take over an urban space but they will not do so if there are no people to observe passing by.  Those up on their Jane Jacobs know what I’m talking about.  A good urban space is like a front porch in a friendly neighborhood.  We don’t need fancy designs, we don’t need programming, we need people. Not people populating an urban space but people being the focus of an urban space.  Much has been said about getting “feet on the street”.  I’m afraid that is the greatest challenge.

July 22, 2008 at 1:19 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

Right. I agree that people are needed on the plaza to attract other people.

I’m surprised that some local tai-chi club doesn’t use that space daily.

Also, it seems like a great space to practice twirling and vertical tossing a drum major/majorette baton.

And what a space for juggling glass fishing floats or whatever; another crowd collecting performance art.

Or how about unicycle stunts on the plaza. You know, those really tall unicycles with one guy pedaling and balancing in one spot while on his shoulders five Chinese acrobats in satin costumes form a five pointed star.

And seriously, look at all those steps—-I used to love throwing a superball at steps.

Those steps work great for pitching pennies too.

Now, if you really expect anybody to use the plaza whatsoever, here’s a basic need that should be part of any plan—-Water. Specifically, a public drinking fountain.

July 22, 2008 at 4:50 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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RR Anderson

I think the best event held in tollefson square to date was the tacoma power pole safety climbing competition. 

They should bring that back.

One thing we’ve learned doing the chalk at frost park is people like repetition… to know that the thing will be there next week. 

I’m sure Tacoma Power need’s all the pole experience it can get yo.

We just cant let Tollefson Square be used by Tacoma Water… everybody knows those guys are just Tacoma Power rejects.

July 22, 2008 at 6:26 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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tollefson’s two major problems are: 1. it is too exposed. Standing on the plaza makes people feel less than secure, mostly uncomfortable mostly because there is no vertical element to clearly define the space. trees would help. The second problem and main reason why i dont see tollefson as a viable plaza no matter how you spin it is the lack of activities. people arnt just gonna go some where to sit. even when people go to parks, the are going for more reasons than to just sit. (walk,jog, play games on fields, take children to play ground) because there is virtually no way to insert any kind of activity inducing shop or restaurants into the plaza itself other than vendor carts, i just can bring my self to the tollefson bandwagon. noble effort by Dave, i just think this one is too far gone.

July 23, 2008 at 3:55 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

Here’s another great use for the plaza: I’m not sure if they make these still, but when I was a kid I had one of those gas powered plastic airplanes, a P-51 Mustang, that you controlled the flight by a hand held C-shaped grip connected to the airplane with fishing line. So, basically once your assistant helps with steadying the take-off, you stand in place and rotate until the plane runs out of gas.

July 23, 2008 at 8:13 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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