For millennia the only inhabitants of these shores were members of Native American Tribes that had lived comfortably around this bay. In 1792, Captain George Vancouver’s expedition named it Commencement Bay. In 1852 the first settler arrived. Nick Delin built a lumber mill near what is now 25th and Dock Streets. Few settlers followed Delin. It was not until 1864 when Job Carr arrived that an active community began to develop. He settled in Shuballup, “the sheltered place”. Later, when New Tacoma was founded to the east, Shuballup became Old Tacoma.
The waterfront along the bay developed rapidly, and many immigrants were attracted to the ar ea. The Croatian community established a purse seining fishery; others founded lumber mills, ship yards, the smelter, the Sperry Flour Mill, and more. Ships arrived laden with tea from the Orient. Lumber, coal, and grain were exported in the sailing ships which lined the shores and waited at anchor. In Old Town, businesses sprang up to meet the needs of the workers and sailors. There were boarding houses, grocery stores, a butcher shop, labor halls, a school, a hospital, a church, and saloons - lot’s of saloons, perhaps as many as eight in the two block area from Starr to Carr Streets.
In a mere thirty years, the “sheltered place” had become a place of lawlessness and corruption. The Old Tacoma Saloon, located on the present site of the Spar, was no exception. According to the Tacoma Daily Ledger in May 1906.... “It was ‘street’ poker - street poker played openly and for cash. At ten o’clock last night the resort was crowded with customers, from young men to old ‘regulars’.... The game was played to the accompaniment of ‘Asleep in the Deep’ and ‘In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree’ coming painfully from the metallic ‘tin piano’ in one of the ‘furnished rooms’ above the saloon. A stairway from the barroom leads to those rooms above. In answer to a question as to who occupied the rooms upstairs, a young man leaning over the chair back of one of the poker players said laconically, ‘five girls and a piano player’.”
This ultimately led to the 1916 Tacoma Daily Ledger article stating the news of the removal of the 33 year old frame structure housing the Old Tacoma Saloon and that “With the passage of the new law (prohibition), the uses to which most of these old frame buildings were put have been taken away”. An announcement the next year heralded Old Tacoma’s first rebirth with the construction of the David building (the present Spar) occupied by the Radonich Brothers’ store.
The Radonich brothers operated it as a men’s furnishings store, a billiard parlor, a soft drink establishment, and by the 1920’s as a restaurant called the Spar. There was a bar for the dispensing of soft drinks - which could be augmented with purchases from the local bootleggers if the bartender conveniently turned his head. With the end of prohibition in 1933, alcohol replaced soft drinks as the beverage of choice for the thirsty workers. For a brief period, hard liquor was served - but the Radonichs decided to remain a tavern serving only beer and wine. Rainier and Heidelberg were the beers - muscatel and port the wines, and good food was served at reasonable prices.
With the development of the Port of Tacoma and industry on the tide flats and then the gradual closing of the mills, shipyards, and finally even the smelter, Old Town once again slumbered. In the last few decades, there has been yet another rebirth. Housing in the area is in great demand. Businesses are back. There are buildings filled with proper business men and women. Old Town has become - dare we say it - respectable, The Spar did its part to enhance Old Town’s respectability with a major remodel in 1988. Finally you could see the view from somewhere besides the men’s room, and a wonderful old building was restored more nearly to its early 20th century decor.
Now in the 21st century, we continue to build on the tradition of the Radonich brothers - good food at reasonable prices, served in a friendly atmosphere, where you can come share a pint with your fellow worker, or walk down the hill for a dinner with your neighbors.
The Spar in Old Town | 253-627-8215
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