Annual tour of homes a trip into Tacoma's rich history

April 27, 2011 

Annual tour of homes a trip into Tacoma's rich history

The Knoell House in Tacoma's North Slope neighborhood is one of the stops on the Tacoma Historical Society's Historic Homes of Tacoma tour.

  • Tacoma Historical Society's Historic Homes of Tacoma 17th annual tour

    When: Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 1-5 p.m.

    Tickets: $20. May be purchased day of event at reception center at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 524 S. I St., Tacoma. May be purchased in advance at the Pacific Northwest Shop, Stadium Thriftway and Columbia Bank.

    Where: Each ticket has the addresses and maps for the tour stops, and ticket holders may begin at any of the tour stops. The tour is self-guided.

    More info.: The society’s resource center, at 3712 S. Cedar St., will be open today through Saturday from noon-5 p.m. to sell tickets and answer questions. The phone number is 253-472-3738 and the website is

Lovers of historic buildings can indulge their passion on the Tacoma Historical Society's annual home tour this weekend.

The tour features six homes in the North Slope and along North 30th Street in Tacoma’s North End; Jason Lee Middle School; First Evangelical Lutheran Church, and First Church of Christ, Scientist.

Tour proceeds benefit the society’s research resource center, said tour chairwoman Marie Hayden.

The self-guided tour presents a rare opportunity to walk through the private residences and learn about each home’s history.

The Walker/Gamble House, for instance, has one of the most fascinating backgrounds on this year’s tour. The home was built in 1921 for Robert Walker, owner and president of the Walker-Wilkeson Stone Co., according to a tour description of the house. Appropriately, the Dutch Colonial style 2,904-square-foot home is clad in Wilkeson sandstone and topped with a tile roof.

In 1939, Ray Gamble, owner of Gamble Manufacturing Co., which made sawdust flour for fish-market floors and for a filler and binder for munitions, bought the home.

Gamble also was an amateur magician and president of the West Coast Society of Magicians. As president, he entertained magicians and hosted visits from Beatrice Houdini and Orson Welles.

Visitors can walk down to the basement to see his Magician’s Theater Room with a curtained stage and ceiling painted as a cloudy sky. The room has alcoves for slot machines, and is painted in trompe l’oeil style to simulate stone walls.

Gamble had a collection of elephant mementos numbering in the thousands, and used them to decorate the house. The terrace remains home to two of his elephant statues, Bozo and Bozette.

Other residences on the tour include:

Knoell House: Building contractors and brothers Ernest and Valentine Knoell built this 3,458-square-foot house for Ernest and his wife, Cora, in 1907. The home features restored fir woodwork, swan-theme cutouts, oak floors and views of Commencement Bay. The Knoell brothers also built Pierce County Hospital, Sumner High School, Park Avenue School and the Tribune Building.

Aldrich House: Elmer Aldrich, vice president of the Eastern Laundry Co., and his wife, Kathrena, had this Foursquare-style home built in 1904. The house has a commanding view of Commencement Bay, built-in oak cabinets with arched leaded-glass doors, and built-in koa wood cabinets, woodwork and beams in the dining room.

Debby Abe: 253-597-8694

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