— by Reyna LaMere
A man by the name of E. Taylor Gardner was ahead of his time in 1925. Gardner was a Tacoma engineer and architect. His vision of a great Tacoma stadium made the newspaper on December 17, 1925. He proposed “a great indoor auditorium under the world’s largest pillarless roof, capable of accommodating gatherings of thousands…” Gardner was a dreamer and a planner. His vision of the dome was made a reality in 1983.
The Tacoma Dome broke ground in July of 1981 and opened its doors on April 12, 1983. It is located at 2727 East D Street Tacoma, Washington. It is one of the world’s largest wooden domes, and since the retiring of the Kingdome in March of 2000, it is Washington State’s largest domed structure. The roof was built with 1.6 million board feet, supplied by the Weyerhaeuser Company.
A massive amount of concrete was used to construct the Tacoma Dome, enough to build a 70-mile-long sidewalk. The Tacoma dome is 530 feet in diameter and 152 feet tall. The Tacoma Dome had its very own design and construction team, consisting of Architect McGranahan, Contractor Jimmy Zarelli, and Marshall Turner.
Since the Tacoma Dome was funded with taxpayer money, according to Grit City Magazine, in April of 1982, thousands of people showed up to write messages and their names on a 5,000-pound beam, before workers installed it. The beam is still there and stands 150 feet above the Tacoma Dome floor. In honor of the Dome’s opening, local musician Arel Thomas wrote a song titled “The Doma Tacoma.” It was recorded by a band named The Kicks. Listen here, in a recording digitized from Tacoma Historical Society’s collection.
Four months after the opening of the Tacoma Dome, the venue hosted its first concert event. On August 11, 1983, David Bowie had the honor of being the first musical act at the Tacoma Dome. Bowie was on the rise with his hit album, Let’s Dance. The tour was called “The Serious Moonlight Tour.” Bowie was joined by The Tubes and played a 24-song set list. Ticket prices started at $16. After Bowie’s concert the Tacoma Dome was the venue to be at for a concert. Journey and Bryan Adams had the pleasure of gracing the stage as the second music event at the Tacoma Dome on August 19, 1983. The concert was held eight days after the Bowie show and general admissions ticket prices were $15. In the intervening years between the opening and the present, the Tacoma Dome has had some amazing music events, with well-known musicians and bands – all the way from Elton John to The Jonas Brothers.
I, as a transplant Washingtonian, have had the pleasure of experiencing the Tacoma Dome myself on several different occasions. I have had the honor of watching my husband and daughter walk across the stage and graduate from Pierce College. I have also had the joy of taking my mom to the annual Christmas Market. But what stands out the most is the live concert events (my apologies to my husband and daughter). Truth be told I have only been to one concert at the Tacoma Dome in the eight years I have lived in Washington, but it was one of the best concert experiences I have had in my 36 years of existence. It was November 4, 2017, and I had the honor of seeing Mr. Garth Brooks live at the Tacoma Dome.
This was Garth Brooks’ first time back Tacoma in over 19 years. The Garth Brooks World Tour graced Tacoma with four shows. The tickets were $61.65, with tax a grand total of $74.98; was not a bad deal considering Garth Brooks is a well-known musician. I dragged along my husband who is not a country music fan. But boy, did he join in and sing along with every single song that Mr. Garth Brooks sang to us. What made the show even better was that Garth was joined by fellow country star Trisha Yearwood, who also so happens to be his wife. Being lucky enough to get tickets to the show and being able to experience one of the best musicians out there with my best friend/husband is a memory I will never forget.
With COVID-19 showing its face in March of 2020, concerts and all events came to a standstill. But with everything in the hopes of moving forward, the Tacoma Dome will re-open and host events. According to the Dome’s website, they are eager to have guests come back and enjoy everything the dome has to offer. With the pandemic a few changes have occurred to keep up with the state mandates. Ticketing will be digital for most events and the venue will no longer be accepting cash. They will offer kiosks where an individual can exchange cash for a Tacoma Dome VISA card. If funds are not used on the card, because of the VISA logo, individuals are able to use it anywhere VISA is accepted. Bags are allowed for personal belongings, but clear is preferred; it reduces the hands-on touching. The Dome has also upgraded their HVAC system. Cleaning and sanitation stations have been placed in high traffic areas. Electrostatic sprayers will spray “positive charged disinfectant particles that adhere to the surfaces and objects.” All guests will be required to wear a face covering and social distance. Food service modifications will be made, with more pre-packaged items to choose from. Restrooms will be touchless. All guests and employees must practice these new guidelines to insure everyone’s safety.
Since 1983, the Tacoma Dome has been a great place to hear a variety of music, and even though we hit a rough patch with the pandemic, the dome will re-open, welcome guests back, and carry on as if nothing ever happened.
Reyna LaMere wrote this article as her final project for Musical History of Tacoma, a class taught by Kim Davenport at the University of Washington Tacoma.