City Council to vote on Cain Promenade, Gilbert Park nominations

Tacoma City Council is scheduled Nov. 24 to consider a resolution that would name a pocket park located north of City Hall as “Ben Gilbert Park,”and the pedestrian area of the 1300 block of Broadway Plaza as “Harry P. Cain Promenade.”

On Oct. 28, Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved a recommendation to name the park adjacent to City Hall after the late editor and historic preservationist Ben Gilbert.

Gilbert died at age 89 on Feb. 28, 2007, at Hospice House in Tacoma. He had battled breast cancer, which spread to his lungs. According to an obituary published March 1, 2007, in the The Washington Post, Gilbert worked at the Post for 30 years. In addition to being “a tough and exacting” city editor, he was also deputy managing editor and associate editor of the editorial page. The obituary notes Gilbert “pushed to expand the newspaper’s coverage of race relations, and in 1968 he helped direct coverage of riots in the city after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis.”

“He was a hard man to love, but he was a hell of a newspaperman,” said Benjamin C. Bradlee, managing editor of the Washington Post, in the obituary. Bradlee and Gilbert often clashed in the newsroom, but Bradlee added, “He got things done.”

Gilbert also served on Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and was an advocate for the hard-of-hearing.

The LPC held a public hearing on the plan during its Sept. 23 meeting. A 30-day comment period followed. The City’s historic preservation office received letters of support from Tacoma Historical Society executive Director Mary Bowlby, architects Greg Benton and Phillip Hill of Belay Architecture, and historian Dale Wirsing.

The biggest supporter has been Tacoma developer Blaine Johnson, who renovated the former YMCA building across the street from the park. Johnson was inspired to name the park for Gilbert after speaking with colleagues who served with him on the landmarks commission, Gilbert’s daughter Amy Mann, and others who knew Gilbert.

Formally naming the park is only one aspect to this project. A black-and-white, six-foot-by-28-foot mural that shows several thousand people gathered in Ledger Square to learn results of the 1926 World Series will be installed. A side panel next to the mural will include information about Gilbert and the park project.

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Also on Oct. 28, the LPC approved a recommendation to name the pedestrian section of Broadway Plaza between South 13th Street and South 15th Street (pictured) after the late U. S. Senator and Tacoma Mayor Harry P. Cain.

In August, Candy Cain Tingstand, Cain’s daughter, and C. Mark Smith, a writer working on a biography of Cain, wrote a letter to Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma requesting the Harry P. Cain Promenade designation.

According to Tingstad and Smith, Cain was born in Tennessee in 1906 and moved with his family to Tacoma in 1910. He spent most of the 1930s as a commercial banker before deciding to run for mayor in 1940. Cain ran on a platform entitled “Tacoma: The City We Build” and promoted long-range infrastructure projects. He was re-elected in 1942, but took a leave of absence the following year to serve in the U.S. Army as a military government and civil affairs officer in Europe.

In 1946, he was elected to the U. S. Senate and served one turbulent term. In an e-mail to Reuben McKnight, Tacoma’s historic preservation officer, Smith writes, “Cain’s one-term career in the U. S. Senate was not his greatest moment. Without prior legislative experience and caught in the intense politics of a Republican Congress after 14 years of Democratic control, Cain talked too much, listened too little, and failed to always represent the best interest of his constituents.”

Cain later moved to Miami-Dade County, Fla. He died of complications from emphysema on March 3, 1979.

The LPC held a public hearing on the proposal during its Sept. 23 meeting. A 30-day comment period followed. The City’s historic preservation office received letters of support from Tingstad, Smith, and historian Dale Wirsing. Representatives of two businesses on Broadway wrote to express their concern that the name change might impact the mailing addresses that appear on their advertisements and business cards. McKnight confirmed the name designation refers to the sidewalk, not the street, and would not change the mailing address.

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