Year In Review — 12th Street Hill Climb

For several decades, pedestrians in downtown Tacoma often opted for the short hike up and down the 12th Street hill climb for quick and easy access to Pacific Avenue, Commerce Street, and Broadway. It was never the most appealing route (crumbling concrete steps, a series of switchbacks and blind spots, trash and drug paraphernalia littered about) but it got the job done.

That changed in recent years as Park Plaza South was converted to Pacific Plaza — the $42 million renovation of an old parking garage into a LEED-platinum building with a green roof. The renovation also called for revamping the hill climb and closing off access for a long spell. What stands there today — a brand-new, wide open staircase and visually stunning art installation — could make downtown pedestrians quick to forgive the hill climb’s closure.

A major part of the 12th Street hill climb revamp is a public art installation called “Projecting Drop” by Vancouver, B.C. artist Jill Anholt.

Anholt’s piece in Tacoma consists of a 25-foot-tall vertical wall covered in green and blue tiles. Near the top of the wall, a drop projects outward, as though frozen in time, creating ripples of green tiles down the wall. As the base of the wall reaches street-level, blue tiles are mixed in until the plaza is covered entirely in blue tiles and reaches out to the sidewalk along Pacific Avenue. Nearest to the wall, the tiles create a ripple effect that might play tricks on your mind. Embedded in the tiles are stainless steel letters that form one portion of a quotation about Tacoma taken from an 1891 edition of the Tacoma Daily Ledger: ‘From amidst a sombre forest of firs a city has arisen as by a stroke of an enchanters wand Tacoma looks forth like a new Venice over the glassy waters and prepares to handle the commerce of the world.’

What’s more, the blue tiles outline the former Turkish bath that sits beneath the street-level and out of sight. The late-1800s bath house was was discovered during Pacific Plaza’s renovation. Today, the bath serves as a cistern in tandem with Pacific Plaza’s green roof.

“I think this whole project is kind of like the drop that’s going to have ripples, I think, for Tacoma and beyond,” said Anholt when she spoke to the Tacoma Daily Index in November. “It’s sort of the loci of something happening. It’s a pretty amazing building.”

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For earlier Tacoma Daily Index coverage, click on the following links:

Help celebrate downtown Tacoma’s new public art Dec. 16 (12/13/10) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1891534&more=0

Tacoma’s Ripple Effect: For artist Jill Anholt, history and art merge on downtown’s 12th Street hill climb (11/14/10) — http://www.wahmee.com/tdi_jill_anholt.pdf or http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1869414&more=0 .