Current Exhibits

Bank on Tacoma, Dreams That Matter

On Display Through December 2020

With the opening of our new museum space at 406 Tacoma Avenue South, Tacoma Historical Society is delighted to announce that two exhibits will be simultaneously on display through December 2020.

Bank on Tacoma: 1873-1993

This exhibit celebrates Tacoma’s rich history of hometown banking, while chronicling Tacoma’s unique financial ups and downs. We are thankful to Columbia Bank for their leadership as a presenting sponsor of this exhibit, and appreciate the additional support of Heritage Bank.

The exhibit is based on extensive original research by former board member and volunteer, Deb Freedman, utilizing primary resources of city directories and historical newspapers. Her chronology of nearly 300 Tacoma banks and credit unions will be available online at, along with a “virtual vault” of over 400 supporting documents and newspaper clippings. Mrs. Freedman has also written a detailed companion book that includes selected biographies of 175 Tacoma men in banking (and four women.)

During the twenty-year period from 1873 to 1893, at least forty-five banks were organized in Tacoma. In 1890 new banks were opening on Tacoma’s street corners every other month. Then came the 1893 banking panic, and due to its extreme municipal debt, Tacoma was the hardest-hit in the nation. By 1933, Tacoma citizens had seen nearly one hundred bank names come and go. 

In contrast, not a single new bank charter was issued in Tacoma between 1933 and 1963. Credit unions grew exponentially during that period, mirroring Tacoma’s municipal, military, and manufacturing employers. Three more decades of fresh starts, mergers and failures followed, mostly in "thrifts" and savings and loans.

The only independent bank in Tacoma that celebrated a centennial was the Puget Sound National Bank, formed in 1890 as the Puget Sound Savings Bank. After shareholders voted to sell in 1992, the entrepreneurial cycle was repeated with the founding of Columbia Bank in 1993.


Dreams That Matter

We are also pleased to bring back the Dreams That Matter exhibit, which honors people from throughout Tacoma's history who have worked for social justice and civil rights. Developed by previous THS curator Brendan Balaam, the exhibit was first on display in 2017-2018. As Balaam explained when the exhibit first opened: 

"We all make choices that are later seen as mistakes. Some are accidents, such as the collapse of the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge, 'Galloping Gertie,' just four months after it opened. Yet some are  deeply rooted in racism, such as the forced removal of all of Tacoma’s Chinese residents in 1885, or Tacoma voters rejecting legislation to end housing discrimination in 1964."

"A few have had the courage to speak out against social injustice, including Tacoma’s Mayor Harry P. Cain who protested the World War Two internment of Japanese-American citizens. Some who have spoken out have never been recognized. Their service to our community is only now beginning to be considered necessary and newsworthy. This exhibit was created to honor the unsung people of the Tacoma area who spoke out to defend their dreams and fight for the universal rights of all."

THS President Bill Baarsma added:

"This exhibit is dedicated to former Tacoma mayor Harold Moss, whose life experiences as 

recounted in his book, Fighting for Dreams That Mattered , have driven us to make this exhibit a reality, as well as to the 245 Tacoma residents who have served on the City’s Human Rights ​Commission over the past 50 years. It is our hope that this exhibit will serve as the beginning of an archive of resource materials on Tacoma’s Civil Rights history. We extend an invitation to our visitors to contribute information or artifacts to this collection, or to let us know of anyone we might contact to help us build this collection. Above all, we want this exhibit to start a conversation about the people and stories we do and do not consider to be a part of Tacoma’s history."

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