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Published on February 4th, 2012 | by Editorial Staff

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Hidden landscapes of Tacoma: the old Emerald Queen Casino

The light is rarely perfect, but yesterday it was. We went outside with a camera, racing against the shortness of January days, to the tidelands east of Tacoma’s port. In search of rust and industry, we found it everywhere – among the impatient cargo trucks and the stoic smokestacks.

The land between the waterways is surprisingly low, flat and desolate after 5 pm. The tranquility accentuates the wide open spaces and empty asphalt lots. How could such a busy place seem to echo loneliness and absence?

We pulled into the parking lot of former Emerald Queen Casino, which is no longer in use. The giant paddlewheel boat is still docked beside the main structure, which has had only minimal upkeep since closing 8 years ago. The parking lot is overgrown and carpeted with detritus of fireworks.

Perhaps we were trespassing, but we felt drawn to the place. The disrepair and disuse of the site was so fresh and stark. A chandelier glowed in the window of the boat. A few workers leaned against trucks parked at the front door. The giant marquee is unlit and looks like a relic from a time long before 1997. There is a sign that still warns against feeding the geese.

Cranes stand sentinel over the abandoned casino and massive parking lotSatellite dishes near the water’s edge, tuned in only to fading daylightThe front of the floating casinoThe rear of the floating casino, with the classic paddlewheelSatellite dishes near the water’s edge, tuned in only to fading daylight

A cargo ship waits in port at sunset

Kevin Lidtka is a Northwest-area photographer who specializes in High Dynamic Range imaging. His work was featured at the Tacoma Art Museum in the “Mighty Tacoma” exhibit last year. 

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Editorial Staff

Updates and perspectives from the Post Defiance leadership team.



7 Responses to Hidden landscapes of Tacoma: the old Emerald Queen Casino

  1. Marisa says:

    Beautifully eerie – nice photos!

  2. Dale Wirsing says:

    Deft prose, great photos. Thank you! — Dale Wirsing

  3. ClioMouse says:

    The amazing thing about the Port is “here today, gone tomorrow, and back again the next day.”

    The riverboat is still in use, though only for special events, such as fight nights, and as administrative offices. The firework garbage showed up in the summer of 2010, after the 4th of July. It was partly tidied and somewhat removed from the property a couple of months later, but not until after it had blown across Alexander and Lincoln Ave’s.

    The parking lot is occasionally used by auto manufacturers to store vehicles straight off the ships, but it looks like you caught it on an empty day. These cars and other cargo usually come from East Blair 1 and 2 Wharfs, immediately south of the EQC property, and from Washington United Terminals, or WUT, which are the orange cranes you see across the Blair waterway. Catch them on an offloading day and you’ll see string after string of about a dozen new Hyundais being driven to lots at a time, and 12 passenger vans bringing them back to the ship. Meanwhile, the ship rises something like 10 feet out of the water. Careful with these properties, though, as they have Marsec levels that require a TWIC badge to get in, and I would not suggest you wander them without one.

    If you want some excellent views, I suggest you check out One Sitcum Plaza, near the Port offices, where they have a great viewing platform. Look northeast from there, past Pier 23 at the Army reserve property, and you’ll find the harbor seal hangout. You can also get up closer to them if you head out Marine View Drive. Keep an eye out in the water for jellyfish and itty bitty floating crabs, as well!

    I’m always amazed at how much is really going on at the Port!

  4. SusanD says:

    Great photos of the old Emerald Queen. I ‘discovered’ the old riverboat last summer after my catching a very early shuttle van to the airport. the driver had a bad address for another passenger, which led us all the way down the road past the old casino site. A lovely early morning discovery… Thanks for these!

  5. Ladymae says:

    Sadness …
    We fight for what we’ve lost
    We win and then we walk away .
    Leaving with hardly a backward glance .
    Our future is now our past ..
    How sad …
    Ladymae , Assiniboine Sioux

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