As the 20th century approached in the city of Tacoma, Washington, industry, and more importantly, money, began flowing into the city. With much of the downtown land being dominated by the railroad companies, newcomers were forced outwards, into the forests that encircled “New Tacoma.”
One young investor was Allen C. Mason. Mr. Mason began buying up land between the downtown mill yards and the newly created Point Defiance Park. With the success of the new park and no good way to get there, Mr. Mason saw his chance. He surveyed and clear cut the land, built some bridges and then in 1890, he built Tacoma’s first streetcar line. All on property he conveniently owned.
As the railway zig zagged through freshly cleared hilltops and over steep gulches, small communities began to spring up from the weeds. At N. 26th and N. Jefferson Street, now N. Proctor Street, a wood yard supplied fuel to the steam powered trolleys. Homes, churches and a school soon followed to support the new streetcar station. The business savvy Mason had succeeded, and a neighborhood was settled. The upstart community was given the name Proctor, for John Proctor, architect of the new state capitol building.
Proctor Street runs north to south for miles throughout the city of Tacoma, but the Proctor District itself is a small neighborhood with its epicenter at N. 26th and Proctor Street in the north end of Tacoma.
In just the last decade the Proctor District has emerged as Tacoma’s most desirable neighborhood and one of the nation’s most competitive housing markets. All that attention put Proctor right in the crosshairs of developers.
A mix of new and old, Proctor hangs onto its charm while rising to the needs of its 21st century crowd.
Many of the old brick and mortar buildings remain with art galleries, bookstores, brew pubs and chic retail lining their storefront windows.
To keep up with the recent housing demand, new upscale apartments and condos began popping up a few years ago, bringing with them new retail and restaurant options for the area.
The landscape may have changed over the years, but the heart and spirit of this place stays the same. And there’s plenty to see and do throughout this historic neighborhood.
Proctor Farmers’ Market
Every Saturday, March through December, N. 27th street shuts down west of Proctor for one of Tacoma’s longest running farmers’ market.
The Proctor Farmers’ Market has been bringing together local vendors, artists and small town farmers to showcase their hard work since the 1990s. Check out Zestful Gardens for some seasonal produce or grab a fresh baked loaf of sourdough bread or croissant from Brown Paper Baking Co.
The market is dog friendly and runs 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., rain or shine, with plenty of activities for kids and live music to get the party going.
Olympia Coffee Roasters
With a long-standing coffee scene in many other parts of Tacoma, it always seemed like the Proctor District was lacking a proper shop with some good locally roasted beans.
In 2018, all that changed when Olympia Coffee Roasters started pouring their award winning brew from the corner of N. 26th and Proctor Street.
The renovated space looks amazing, complete with a side roasting room, beans and swag for sale plus an open, bright lounge to relax in or get some work done. Grab a bench seat and people watch out the front window or get your latte with a pastry to go and wander a bit.
Take a Walk
Proctor has some amazing city walking with nice sidewalks and gradual ups and downs along tree lined streets. A true Pacific Northwest neighborhood oasis in the middle of Washington’s third most populated city.
Check out two of Proctor’s more prominent buildings at the corner of N. 26th and Washington Street, just a block over from Olympia Coffee.
Washington Elementary, built in 1906 and the old Anna E. McCormick Library building, built in 1927 instantly grab your attention with their burnt red brick exteriors and ornate wood working. On the front lawn of the library, under a lofty Maple Tree, stands a statue of Mr. Mason himself, with an extended hand greeting newcomers to this day.
Head North on Proctor Street just past N. 30th and you’ll come to Puget Park and Mason Bridge.
Puget Park was a gift from Allen C. Mason to the city of Tacoma and today has a sloping grassy knoll for lounging and some children’s play structures managed by Metro Parks Tacoma.
Mason Bridge is a historically registered landmark and carries Proctor Street over a wooded ravine known as Puget Creek Gulch.
The Puget Creek Nature Area
Down at the bottom of that gulch is The Puget Creek Nature Area. A quick descent into the wooded creek drainage reveals a slice of the city most people pass right over without a second look.
Catch the trailhead from Puget Park, at N. 31st and Proctor Street and follow the well-marked trail past mature Douglas-fir, Bigleaf Maple, Pacific Madrone and European Beech.
A couple of sharp switchbacks drop you down to the trickling creek, lined with Sword Ferns and thick spongy moss beds.
Good for bird and fury critter watching, the dark cool forest floor is abundant with life. Even the occasional backside of a fleeing coyote gets spotted by an earlier morning trail runner, but mostly it’s north Tacoma’s resident deer population.
Deer roam the neighborhood streets at dawn and dusk looking for tasty flower buds to snack on, then retreat to the thick, camouflaged foliage during peak daytime hours. Don’t be startled if you meet one face to face, they’ll just walk around you and continue to look for lunch, just like the rest of us.
Under the same ownership and roof, this dual threat restaurant duo opened back in 2016 to rave reviews and a steady clientele. Cook’s Tavern rotates their artwork to match their rotating menu, always something new to see and eat and I’ve never been disappointed. That being said, I choose to spend my paycheck at Brewer’s Row whenever possible.
Serving tasty tacos and fresh baked churros for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you simply can’t go wrong here any time of day. I tend to go with the carne asada taco plate or the pork belly, when they have it, usually smothered in an avocado crema and a churro for the ride home that never seems to make it to the car. Check out the specials board or go with the massive taco salad. Sizzling steak and fresh veggies on a full bed of lettuce inside of a fresh, made to order tortilla bowl, again drizzled with avocado crema. Or just throw a dart to be honest. I’ve tried just about everything there and you can’t go wrong. There’s also a good selection of ciders and beers on the back wall and a separate fridge cooler with to-go or in house selections to choose from as well.
The Proctor District has some great shops to browse while in town. Standing at N. 26t h and Proctor, the retail zone extends for a few blocks in all four directions. Parking is limited to 2 hours in front of most businesses, but just off the main strip, parking is free and plentiful.
Step into Compass Rose for some local goods with a Northwest kick. Everything from jewelry to coffee mugs, greeting cards to gag gifts, Compass Rose has a wide selection to appeal to everyone’s tastes.
T Town Trading Co. is your headquarters for locally printed Tacoma apparel and gifts. Printed at their downtown Tacoma Location, T Town sells Tacoma inspired gear for the whole family.
Blue Mouse Theatre
Named for a Parisian lounge, the Blue Mouse Theatre has been a Proctor District institution since 1923. On the west side of Proctor Street, between N. 26th and N. 27th Street, look for the red brick building with an illuminated blue mouse scurrying across the marquee.
Opened by the entrepreneur John Hamrick, the theatre was dubbed the “Finest Suburban Theatre in the Northwest” by the Tacoma News Tribune, when it started as a silent picture show theatre in the 1920s.
The Blue Mouse changed hands a few times over the years finally landing within the safety net of the “Blue Mouse Associates.” in 1993. The conservationist group of 17 bought the theatre with hopes of returning it to its former glory. During renovations it was discovered that most of the original architecture existed under years of additions. The theatre was resurrected and updated to fit current cinema standards.
The original mahogany swinging doors now greet patrons on a daily basis with a weekly movie rotation and featuring the Rocky Horror Show, on the 2nd and 4th Saturday night of every month.
Grab some popcorn and find your seat under the glow of a glistening chandelier as you settle into this small, intimate show box.
Peaks & Pints
After a day of cruising the Proctor District it’s only natural to work up a substantial thirst. Quench that desire at Peaks & Pints on Proctor Street.
Pull up a stool at the dark stained wood bar and order a pint from one of dozens of beers, ciders and wines taps sticking out of a fallen piece of heavy timber behind the bar.
Staying true to its roots, Peaks & Pints features suds from all over Washington and the Pacific Northwest with weekly events highlighting local brewers and their latest concoctions.
More than just a pub, Peaks & Pints has a menu of handmade sandwiches, small dishes, typical bar snacks and big group tables that hold 6-8 people comfortably without the usual pub squeeze.
For a quieter experience grab your pint and sit in the smaller fireplace room. With only a hand full of tables, it’s the perfect place to catch up with friends over drinks and a cozy fire.
It’s the perfect way to end a visit to Tacoma’s Proctor District.