Tacoma Dome: Then and Now

by Mia Wright

When I hear people talk about this amazing city, they mention a couple of things: Tacoma aroma, the diverse group of people, and the Tacoma Dome. The Tacoma Dome is the city’s main event place for concerts, festivals, and even football and basketball games. Just like most things, the Tacoma Dome started as just a vision by an engineer named Taylor Gardener in 1925. He had envisioned an “indoor auditorium under the world’s largest pillarless roof, capable of accommodating gatherings of thousands…”. Gardener’s vision came true in 1983. The Tacoma community expressed their desire for a “Dome of our Own” so much that in 1980 community members rallied to make this dome vision a reality. There were numerous public meetings held to answer any questions people had and eventually the majority of Tacomans came together and supported the plan. In March 1980 the final vote was made to build the dome. Building this Dome was not a new concept so ideas for locations of this Dome Downtown and near Cheney Stadium were a popular option for many Tacomans. No matter where the Dome was located, some sort of conflict and accommodations would need to take place. Hawthorne neighborhood was eventually decided on as an ideal location even though some people’s houses were physically moved or bought by the city and completely demolished. The Tacoma Dome or “Dome” as many other Tacoma Natives and I call it opened its doors on April 12th, 1983 which was pretty on track for the scheduled opening (January 1st, 1983).

Letter from a community member of Tacoma asking for the Dome to be named the “Tacoma Dome”.
Courtesy of Tacoma Historical Society.

Newspaper article from a couple of months after the Tacoma Dome opened depicting its story.
Courtesy of the Tacoma Historical Society.

Early planners envisioned “a facility that has the greatest flexibility of any structure of its kind in the world” so the Dome was always meant to be a multi means stadium that could host a wide variety of events. The Dome capacity for different events spanned from roughly 20,000-26,000 for motorcycle races, soccer games, and boxing and wrestling matches while music performances were able to hold 30,000 people. The Dome’s design was mainly inspired by the NAU Skydome Flagstaff, Arizona, The Tacoma Dome ended up being better…I mean bigger making it one of the world’s largest wooden domes and the largest dome structure in Washington since the retirement of the Kingdome in 2000. The Dome’s structure is just as interesting as the story behind it, it is 530 feet in diameter and 152 feet tall with the roof being built with 1.6 million board feet and so much concrete was used in building the dome that it could have built a 70-mile-long sidewalk! The dome was made possible by both community voices and taxpayer dollars. It is only right that thousands of people showed up to write messages and their names on a 5,000-pound beam before workers installed it, which is still a part of the structure today. The beam is still there and stands 150 feet above the Tacoma Dome floor. To honor the opening of the Dome a local musician, Arel Thomas wrote a song titled “The Doma Tacoma.” It was recorded by a band named The Kicks. Check it out:

The Dome Today

The Dome hosted events for 35 years before needing renovations in the summer of 2018. These renovations came at a price with more than $30 million going into making improvements focused on making the Tacoma Dome experience even better for guests and performances. Updates to the Dome included new and wider seats throughout the arena, fans in the primo floor seats have access to new bathrooms whereas before they were using port-a-potties, the concession stands were refaced with reclaimed lumber and new electronic menu boards while new food options include the typical burger and fry stands, barbecue, and healthier salads and bowls.

Taken by the author, July 2022

Concerts, Graduations, and Sports, Oh My!

The author’s high school graduation at the post-renovation Tacoma Dome, 2018.

Author’s photograph from Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz Tour appearance at the Tacoma Dome, 2014.

The Dome has hosted many concerts over the years with the first-ever concert there being David Bowie with “The Serious Moonlight Tour” and was 1 of four concerts in 1983. After the 2018 renovations to the Dome were finished, which came at the perfect time since the Key Arena had just announced its closure for renovations, the Dome hosted concerts for Drake, The Migos, Twenty-One Pilots, Fleetwood Mac, and Justin Timberlake. Carrie Underwood’s last 2 tours were at the Key Arena and were also moved to the Dome due to the Key’s renovations. A year after renovations in 2019 the Dome had the most music events with 37 performances that year. Performers included Elton John, Post Malone, Chris Brown, Travis Scott, YG, and the City Girls. Just like with everything else, the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted the events happening at the Dome. Only 7 concerts occurred at the Dome in 2020 and 6 of those were before the shutdown and only 8 concerts happened in 2021. 2022 did see a rise in concerts with 16 performances.

I am curious to see what 2023 holds as only 6 shows have been announced so far at the Dome. I had the pleasure of watching two performers at the Dome, Miley Cyrus in 2014 for the Bangerz tour and Justin Bieber’s 2013 Believe tour. Both concerts were absolutely amazing and something I will remember for years to come. The Dome also hosts the Washington State 4A and 3A championships for both basketball and football as well as all of the Tacoma Public School Graduations. The Dome is such a versatile place with deep ties to the Tacoma community.

About the Author

Mia Wright prepared this article as her final project for TARTS 225: Musical History of Tacoma, taught by Kim Davenport at the University of Washington, Tacoma. At the time she took the class in Autumn Quarter 2022, she was a senior majoring in Social Welfare.

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