Lacey turns 50 years old, as a city

Lacey has become a city of a certain age and momentum. Dec. 5 marks the 50th anniversary of a much older settlement that grew into a city.

We wish a very happy birthday to what is now Thurston County’s second-largest city and the state’s 25th biggest.

It actually took Lacey’s movers and shakers a couple of tries to incorporate. A 1964 effort led by business and school leaders was strongly rejected. But a majority of voters in the unincorporated area that came to be known as Lacey agreed in November 1966 to do it.

Dec. 5 is the birthday for the city because that is the date the historic election result was certified. Pro-city forces won by 240 votes — 1,586 to 1,346, according to the city’s official history.

Those behind the incorporation drives were leery of being caught in the reach of ever-annexing Olympia.

A half century later, the Lacey community once known to pioneers as Woodland has grown to an estimated 47,540 people, according to the latest estimate by demographers at the state Office of Financial Management.

Olympia remains Thurston County’s biggest city and cultural center with an estimated 51,600 residents. With Lacey’s sprawling footprint and relatively fast growth, it seems destined to eclipse the capital city in size.

Surely the notion that upstart Lacey might one day throw a little shade on the seat of county and state government was unthinkable back then.

In 1966, Republican governor Dan Evans was in the second of his 12 years in office, “Star Trek” debuted on NBC, Martin Luther King Jr. took his civil rights effort to Chicago, protests intensified on three continents as the U.S. war in Vietnam expanded with air attacks on Hanoi, and the Beatles performed their final paid concert in San Francisco.

A big deal in Lacey that year was the opening of a Sears store that still stands as a landmark next to the one-time indoor mall at South Sound Center.

The Lacey of today is still a business-oriented place, but with a more diverse population. It is also home to many military veterans who retired from nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

In many ways, the city remains a work in progress.

Its founding was shaped by the interests of developers, which led to sprawl. Fifty years later, civic leaders are still acting to create a more definable city center.

The anticipated expansion of the relatively new South Puget Sound Community College branch campus in the city core should help define the city hub.

This year, Lacey champions such as Mayor Andy Ryder launched an effort to rename North Thurston Public Schools after the city. Residents from outlying areas resisted being dragged into the clutches of Lacey — just as early Lacey residents resisted Olympia. So it didn’t happen.

Perhaps it is true that what goes around, comes around.

A birthday party is planned from 3 p.m. into early evening Monday in two locations — at The Hub at Woodland Square and at Huntamer Park, both along Woodland Square Loop Southeast.

Words we would put on a cake for Lacey’s occasion are youthful, energetic, diverse, growing into its shoes. And, Happy Birthday!