Published on June 29th, 2015 | by Barbara Parsons


Development and betrayal: the complicated urbanization of Proctor

Lovers of the Proctor District are frustrated, but it isn’t because they don’t understand the importance of growth in urban neighborhoods. Popular press has suggested that the “well-heeled” residents of Proctor are stuck in the past, unwilling to embrace a new vision for Tacoma that includes change. If that were so, however, they would have objected years ago, before developers broke ground on the 65 foot dragon  squatting squarely on the corner of Proctor and 28th.

The Proctor District in Tacoma’s North End offers  things not widely available elsewhere in town: walkable historic charm, independent book and toy stores, resale shops, shoe-repair, even a place to buy a good slice of pie. Mostly, it is a warm, welcoming neighborhood that visitors and residents alike can enjoy.

The Ray Gamble Building in 1930

The Gamble Building in July, 1930. Located at 2705 North Proctor, the building had eight apartments above and businesses on the street level. Ned and Corinne Knapp opened a delicatessen in the Gamble Building around 1938; Knapp’s Restaurant has been in business at this address for over 70 years. Image courtesy of the the Tacoma Public Library Image Archives.

The district developed as a family neighborhood in the early 20th century when it was served by the Tacoma streetcar system. Before construction of the Proctor Bridge at 32nd Street, the shops served only a small neighborhood. In the 1920s the bridge was built and the area became popular as a quiet working-class neighborhood. The homes in Proctor are modest (though north of the bridge many are more elaborate). Then as now, folks moved to the neighborhood to have good schools for their children, quiet streets for playing, and convenient shopping. The homes in the area, two and three bedroom bungalows and small craftsmen homes, were built for young families, not the area’s rich and famous, who lived on Yakima Avenue at that time.

Since the current residents are happy to grow within normal limits, they didn’t object when the city quietly changed the zoning and building height limits. They didn’t object when impending development signs appeared in the strip-mall directly next door to Mason Middle School. Sure, there was a little chatter about the proposed project, but the mall was ugly, its best businesses were gone following the investor buyout, and other businesses were comparatively transient. It had to go sometime, and Bill Evans was behind this project, so neighbors didn’t have to watch too closely. Bill wouldn’t stand behind something out of keeping with Proctor character.

Here we have the crux of the discord; those who love the district are frustrated not because they are spoiled and rich, but for a far better reason: they have been betrayed.

In order for outside reporters and casual observers to understand the level of this betrayal, they must cast their minds back over twenty-five years to when the Proctor District was even sleepier than it is now. There was no Starbucks. No Metropolitan Market. However, there was a core of citizens who loved the neighborhood, one of whom purchased a storefront and opened a gift store. He was personable. He oozed folksy charm. He got involved, helping to raise the curtain at the Blue Mouse; he was at the root of the farmers’ market.

When he cornered a customer, he might talk about his vision for Proctor. Wouldn’t it be swell to get rid of the ugly 1960s strips and build charming little shops with a few apartments on top, all in keeping with the character of the neighborhood?  One by one, he introduced neighbors to his dream. They in turn voted him onto the city council. As the Tacoma Weekly reported earlier this month,

“Evans even publicly pondered resigning from his second term on the City Council over any conflict of interest between the City Council’s tax abatement policy and his plans for developing apartments in Proctor 10 years ago that would seek tax abatement under the policy as a way to make them financially viable. Those plans died out and Evans remained on the council until he left in 2008, when he was not allowed to run for re-election because of the city’s two-term limit.”

There were whispers that Bill was buying retail space up and down the street, but no one thought much of it.

It was because they thought they shared a dream that no one questioned the development that Bill slipped past them. Bill was in charge. He’d make sure everything was on the up and up. He sure did.

Up, went his brick building blocks, and up…and up. By the time the neighborhood saw what had hit them – 151 overpriced apartments – it was too late. Now, Proctor residents may not be rich, but they are smart. They knew it was too late to do anything about that dragon crouching on the corner. They sucked in their breaths, stopped dropping in at Bill’s overpriced businesses, and vowed to be more careful the next time.

25th and Proctor from google maps

The proposed site of the next large mixed-use development in the Proctor neighborhood.

But before the faux bricks were superglued to the building, they discovered that “next time” was upon them. Already, plans were in place to blow out another strip of shops– this time not so ugly; this time, healthy, self-sustaining— a second giant structure would bookend the neighborhood. Charming bungalow houses, a dry cleaner, and the current home of Proctor Frozen Yogurt and Sonja’s. would all need to be razed.

Residents of the area have much to gain from development and little to lose. When cars filled with over 300 new residents flood the streets, they will not trouble those with sturdy shoes living within walking distance of the shops. Nor will the increased cost of real estate be a burden to residents, who serve to gain equity.

Those who will lose are the many folks who love Proctor, but don’t live here.

The City of Tacoma must place a moratorium on building in the district until we can all assess the results of this first experiment. Considering the scale of these developments and the possible ramifications for traffic, children’s safety, visitor parking and the delicate natural environment, not to do so would be irresponsible.

The opinions stated in this article are those of the author, and do not pretend to represent the feelings or reactions of all residents of the Proctor area.

Featured image from the architectural renderings on the BCRA site

Thanks to The News Tribune’s Kathleen Cooper for her reporting on this issue.


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About the Author

Barbara Parsons is a college English instructor and writer in the Tacoma area. She is an advocate for Tacoma's historic memories, architectural gems and neighborhoods.

12 Responses to Development and betrayal: the complicated urbanization of Proctor

  1. Jim C says:

    Excellent piece, Ms. Parsons, and accurately describes the thoughts of this neighborhood resident (I live a couple blocks up on Puget Sound Ave.) Tacoma has plenty of vacant and blighted land adjacent to downtown that can be densified to anyone’s heart’s content without deleteriously leveraging the strengths of one of the few areas that has succeeded in the city so far in the 21st century. I read somewhere that Starbucks plans on moving in to the new development from the corner site at 26th and if it does, that same Starbucks that Mr. Evans objected to when it first moved in twenty years ago, that will be the punchline to this joke. Nothing going on here but developers taking profits.

  2. Sour Grapes says:

    There is a huge number of people in Proctor and Tacoma that love this project. I love how this is all characterized as some sort of betrayal. There is so much hyperbole in this “glued on bricks” “overpriced apartments” not to mention anti-urbanist language like think of traffic and parking. The fact is this Johnny-come-lately group doesn’t want a moratorium on this project, they want a moratorium on growth period.

  3. Can we define over priced? Can you use an actual comparison of market rates in similar neighborhoods?

    Why is it betrayal in proctor but in hilltop development like this is welcomed?

    People are calling proctor residents ridiculous because they are being ridiculous. If you want a quiet street with low traffic where your kids can play, that never changes there are countless subdivisions available near by. Homes in proctor are expensive, apartments in proctor are expensive, groceries in proctor are expensive. Quit crying about urban development in a city.

    • BB says:

      The homes within 1/2 mile of this development are very modest. You have not looked at the neighborhood if you don’t get that. Most of them are 2-3 bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths. Proctor is self-sufficient as it is, that is why it is OK to hold back for the “right” development. Hilltop is not self-sustaining and has serious issues with crime. Finally, Proctor is not a city. It is a neighborhood. A quiet, suburban neighborhood which has managed to hold to high standards in regulating development,maintaining neighborhood safety, stimulating active PTSA groups, and placing the emphasis on families. Because it has done such a good job, everyone wants in. Fine. But it should be on the terms of those who live here and have maintained it to this point, not on the terms of big developers who wish to line their own pockets. Evans, by the way, lives on Yakima Avenue, not in Proctor.

      • Proctor is not a suburban neighborhood. It is an urban neighborhood inside of a city. That’s ridiculous.

        • BB says:

          “A suburb is a residential area or a mixed use area, either existing as part of a city or urban area or as a separate residential community within commuting distance of a city.” Wikipedia

  4. Katrica T says:

    In 2009 I was a big fan of the Urban Village concept. Still am. This isn’t it. Phase one is 6 stories high, not 4. Phase two is planned behind developer Bill Evans business, the Pacific Northwest shop. The next 6 story building is already in the planning stages scheduled to go up across from Met Market. Three six story buildings, none with free parking for residents, not near anywhere people work and with very inadequate transit options . Most disappointing is that someone people thought was their friend and a champion of Proctor turns out to be just another greedy developer.

  5. Capo says:

    Is there a Facebook page I can go to that supports this development? I only see the one that is pretty ambiguously and inaptly named “Residents and Friends of Proctor.” I think developments like this are the future. People should be able to walk to all services and have a low carbon footprint. This area is designed for growth and transit accessibility. Proctor is the new Fremont/Ballard.

  6. Mary Lynn says:

    I have lived in the area since the late 80s and have no complaints with the changes. Whether or not you agree with Bill Evans’ vision of higher density, he is a man of integrity. There was plenty of conversation and information. No need to attack him. Makes for a poor piece of “journalism.”

    • Katrica T says:

      There was plenty of conversation and information. If the Urban Village model was done in the way we were presented I would be all for it. Back room shenanigans changed the model. It did not ever show three six story buildings within a few
      blocks. That is the problem. If Bill Evans was a man of integrity he would be listening to and working with the neighborhood. That is all they want.

  7. Bruce Hammer says:

    I have lived in Tacoma for over fifty years. I attended Tacoma Schools graduating from Lincoln High School in 1970. I taught in Tacoma Schools for 22 years. I grew up in southeast Tacoma and still live there.

    As for Bill Evans, I have visited his beautiful store in Proctor numerous times. He tried to help our Pacific Avenue Business District get started years ago. I have spoken to him briefly three or four times.

    Tacoma is a great city in many ways, but economically speaking is a relatively poor city (Having lost major companies for years: National Bank of Washington, United Pacific Insurance, Weyerhaeuser, Pacific First Federal, Puget Sound Bank, Frank Russell Company…). But the one of the great things about Tacoma is the people. One of those great people is Bill Evans.

    I remember Old City Hall in the 1980s (?) and the beautiful shops there. Bill and his wife started Inca Land (?). Bill was the cornerstone of Proctor over the last 30 years making it a great place! He and his family voted for Tacoma when very few did and it was considered foolish to do so. It is clear to me that Bill and his family love Tacoma. We are very fortunate have them here in Tacoma!

    As to the present controversy, I would just suggest trying to work together and begin a dialog for the good and greatness of Tacoma.

  8. Keith Hunter says:

    How about bring this type of development to the Fern Hill, Larchmont, or McKinley areas,along with the retail? Proctor already has a good thing going, why not help bring out positive changes to other parts of the city that could benefit from this type of development?

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