The ‘Chilling’ History of Tacoma’s “Elf” Storage Building

There was no marketing genius behind turning Tacoma Self Storage into Tacoma “Elf” Storage. It wasn’t a ploy by the company to get free press, or even an enthusiastic holiday reveler looking to spread cheer—it was a happy little accident caused by our feathered friends.

The story on the company’s site explains:

“One fair day in 2007 Tacoma Self Storage was visited by a flock of birds and one of the birds landed atop the ‘S’ of the ‘Tacoma Self Storage’ neon sign. The little bird accidentally hit the switch on the neon ‘S’ and a Star was born!”

Ever since the ‘S’ has been turned off every Black Friday, ironically going dark to make the season bright.

King 5 couldn’t resist getting in on the feel-good story, and turned up in 2015 to capture the big moment:

Though legend has it the elves have free reign of the building, the North Pole natives may have been more comfortable at the 2602 S Holgate Street location back when it was the Tacoma Ice Company.

(Photos and captions below from the Tacoma Public Library’s online archives.)

Tacoma Ice Co., 2602 So. Holgate St.; photograph taken from Delin Street across the gulch in June of 1931. The plant was built in 1923, designed by A.W. Sterrett, and is on the City Registry.

The ice plant was the first portion built in 1923 for $250,000. It had the capacity to produce 100 tons of ice daily and used 40 miles of piping. The cold storage warehouse was completed in 1925 for $90,000.

Men are moving crates of celery…The company had a total of 500,000 cubic feet of cold storage vault space at this location, the main plant. It was cooled by amonia refrigerant in some 10 miles of refrigerating coils throughout the building.

The new sizing machine will help the company serve their customers better, the machine cuts ice into four different sizes. Left to right, Ed Matthies, Ken Nutzhorn and Curtis Watkins; they are using the new ice sizing machine; the ice is then packed in waterproof throw away paper bags, untouched by human hands.

Mrs. Longstreth Curtis and four children, (l to r) Carolyn Ketring, Nancy Long, Jay Smalling and Penny Long, gaze in wonder and admiration at the “Snow Maiden” created by Tacoma sculptor Andrew Bergaloff in February of 1949.

Mr. Bergaloff, a student of Kenn Glenn at the College of Puget Sound, had been hired by the Tacoma Junior League to chisel an ice statue to be used for a children’s theater production of the Grimm story “The Snow Maiden.” He created the statue in a zero degree room at the Tacoma Ice Company building at 2602 Holgate. The ice maiden was kept in storage until March when she was transported to the Temple Theater for unveiling.

On July 17, 1941, Ed Kinderbeck, ice handler at Tacoma Ice Company, cools-off on a block of ice as the temperature in Tacoma reaches 94.2 degrees.

Slight relief came in the evening with a tremendous lightning show and thunderstorm accompanied by large, lukewarm rain drops. The following day, Tacoma set a new all-time record for the hottest seven days in Tacoma’s recorded weather history since late July and August of 1898.

The Holgate building was at one point slated for demolition, but became home to Tacoma Self Storage in 2006. It is now listed on the Tacoma Register of Historic Places.

S”elf”ie takers and Christmas photo enthusiasts are welcome to stop by and take a snap during the holidays, as well as to send a copy of their holiday card to Tacoma Self Storage’s office.

Photos by Sierra Hartman and courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library

  1. Only the exterior walls of the cold storage structure remain. The interior structure was all heavy timber columns, beams and decks. It was replaced with a steel structure in the project than converted the building to a self storage facility. The developer was hoping to salvage the timber, but it was too deteriorated with rot to be salvageable.

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