The Clever Tacoma Mall Design You May Have Missed

If you made a list of noteworthy examples of architectural design in Tacoma, the mall would probably not make the cut. That might be because it’s changed a lot in the last 50 years, but more likely it’s because you’re not Art Chantry.

“it was the first structure (complex) i’ve ever seen where the architecture and the logo/branding were THE SAME. it was a revelation and a marvel to my young mind.”

Art Chantry has been called the Godfather of Grunge, thanks to creating artwork for the likes of Nirvana and Soundgarden. He has an incredibly unique way of looking at things and often turns his magnifying glass toward his home town of Tacoma in his regular Facebook posts.

His writing very much mirrors his design style so here, in its raw and unedited form, is Art Chantry’s critique of the Tacoma Mall.

what made tacoma famous made a loser out of me…

when the Tacoma Mall was constructed in the mid 1960’s, it was what killed downtown tacoma. back in those days, malls were built to steal business away from active downtown shopping districts – just like WALMART does today. 

the Tacoma Mall began a decline in the tacoma downtown that took ovvr 50 years to reverse – and then that reversal is tentative. we’ll see if it holds.

the DESIGN of the Tacoma Mall was pretty cool in retrospect. it was the first structure (complex) i’ve ever seen where the architecture and the logo/branding were THE SAME. it was a revelation and a marvel to my young mind.

look at the LOGO. then look at the entrance. see what i’m talking about? using the structural support design as the LOGO tied everything in together so beautifully that it was stunning. the same structural supports were used throughout the interior as well.

the last photo (below) shows the Tacoma Mall Theater (a mainstay of my teenage years). it really killed off downtown movie theater traffic as well. but, note how the LOGO of the Theater echoes exactly the structure of the mall and the brand as well. 

at the Tacoma Mall, the “TM” (short for ‘Trade Mark’) you saw everywhere really meant Tacoma Mall. beat that shit.

almost all of that branding conceit has been erased and removed over the decades by subsequent owners of the mall. additional new buildings ignored the design idea, too. but, enough of the old design thinking still exists at the mall to entertain those who bother to look for it.

Bonus bit: Art Chantry recently designed the poster for the 2019 Tacoma Film Festival, which will be October 3-10. His thoughts on that process, Tacoma, and more as captured by Taylor Hawkins

Art Chantry | 2019 Tacoma Film Festival Poster Design

Art Chantry's tools? Collected ephemera, X-ACTO knife, scanner. His hands.⁣⁣⁣ Come behind the scenes with world-renowned graphic designer Art Chantry and the making of his poster design for the 2019 Tacoma Film Festival. Directed by Taylor Hawkins ( by Wendell Ratliff

Posted by Tacoma Film Festival on Monday, June 10, 2019

Photos courtesy of Art Chantry and Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room

  1. Great story. Grew up in Tacoma and loved my childhood. Tacoma is still a great city and the founding fathers really had thier poop together. Our clean drinking water, our hydro electric dams and low power rates. Click. I remember when you could call the city to come fix your washing machine and got it done well and cheap just because you lived in the city. Wish it was still that way.

  2. I remember when an element (burner) went out on our stove Mom called City Light. They came out and replaced it. I also remember a wonderful fountain beside the City Water building on Union. When they widened Union they had to remove it. Anyone have a photo of it? At night there were colored lights in the windows, and at Christmas, a tree on top.

  3. So way back when macys was before bonmacys before was the bon was at its earliest in my lifespans memories referred to and commonly known as the bon marche (english translation “the good deal market”) there have been a number of interior redesigns over the years. However the most striking feature that i admired was in front of the interior mall entrance where in the 80s-mid 90s you could descend a spiral flight of stairs to get to the first floor of bon/macys. These stairs wrapped around an incredible fountain sculpture. It was this crazy sorta evil lookingspire of iron with circles cut so that it had juxtaposed descending jagged blade featuresin this really unique art deco style with this wierd neo gothic techno baroque theme to it sorta. And finally the purpose of this post is to inquire anyone that has any info about the fountain to share it. It was a sick piece of public art that i can find no info on. Websearched for a bit and i could find no mention of it nor a photo? Kinda hard to believe its not documented hopefully this isnt me losing my mind to false memories (is this that mandella effect bullsh!t i keep seeing pop up in my youtube scroll feed?) Anyways any info or links would be appreciated. Thanks

      1. I suggest maybe going to the main library downtown Tacoma it’s about six blocks north of the University of Washington and look in their archives up on the top floor

  4. I, too, am after photos of that fountain! There’s one and only one on Pinterest, and another shot from the opposite side just after the mall opened which shows it wasn’t there originally. It had tiny pipes that squirted water upward or downward as well as a bubbler on the top, and it sat in a large, boat- or bathtub-like bowl tiled in stripes of blue and green. The jungle around it also had spotlights hidden within fiberglass rocks, and there were three other fountain sculptures there.

    Southcenter, though of basically the same design, had one fountain sculpture (and another simpler fountain). It, too, had the Bon Marche hole-and-staircase, but it was square and lacked a fountain. Jungle, yes. Rock-lights, yes.

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