City will host Historic National Guard Armory photo safari

Join the City of Tacoma and the Tacoma Arts Commission for a special opportunity to photograph inside the National Guard Armory. The National Guard has invited a limited number of photographers to explore the inner depths and outer reaches of the historic National Guard Armory on Tues., Aug. 28, between noon and 2 p.m.

Interested photographers must sign up ahead of time to attend this event as space is limited. Sign-up for this event is first-come, first-served. Due to limited space, you may only reserve a space for yourself, not a group. All participants must bring a photo ID and sign a release of liability form before entering the building. This is a free event. R.S.V.P. by calling (253) 591-5560 or e-mailing

In the last two decades of the 1800’s and spilling into the 20th Century, America’s federal government feared attack from within. A surge of immigrant populations sparked anxiety causing the military to suspect civic uprising and labor unrest from immigrant workers. Armories were built in Seattle, Everett, Olympia and Tacoma. Tacoma’s urban fortress is the oldest in the state.

The National Guard Armory showcased its opening with a New Year’s Eve ball on December 31st, 1908. Construction had begun in May 1908 with an allocation of $95,000 with Pierce County furnishing the site. The idea for the Armory stemmed from the predicament of where to train Calvary soldiers, who in 1904, were forced to train in vacant storerooms.
Design of the Armory is based on the hill castles created after the Crusades and designed to make an impression of strength and solidity for the City of Tacoma. The Armory had stables in the basement and an indoor firing range. The Yakima Avenue side has great glass slits for windows, 6 inches wide by 53 inches long. These skinny portals are based on English castles where archers fired arrows at the rabble. Another motif from English castles is the crenellated roof for pouring scalding water onto attacking mobs.

Throughout the years, the Armory has hosted a concert by John Philip Sousa, the Harlem Globetrotters, the Wailers, Paul Revere and The Raiders, car shows, local high school graduations, profession boxing and an indoor baseball game. Presidents Taft, Wilson and Truman all spoke at the Armory. From 1989 to 1995, the Armory was used as an overflow jail by Pierce County. As many as 300 inmates were housed in triple bunks spread over the maple floor.

An exhibit of photographs taken at The National Guard Armory will be featured in the fall rotation of artwork at the City Hall gallery located on the 12th floor of the Municipal Building and at the Tacoma Public Utilities gallery. All participants are encouraged to submit artwork created on this photo safari to the exhibit.