Titlow Beach is a popular park in Tacoma – a place where the kids can play on a playground or run through the fields, a place with a small lake where visitors can stroll the perimeter, and a place with a shoreline that’s perfect for searching tidepools or just gazing at the water. In the heart of the park is Titlow Lodge, a building most known as a rental space for weddings, receptions, family reunions and other events. But Titlow Lodge is far more than a rental hall. It is now a historic landmark due to its past as an upscale hotel and the men who name it possible.
What is now Titlow Lodge opened in 1911. It served as a posh waterfront hotel that was owned by attorney-turned-hotelier Aaron R. Titlow. He dubbed it Hotel Hesperides, a three-and-a-half story resort that was designed by notable architect Frederick Heath and built by the go-to contractor of the era, Charles A. Sayre. Ties to any one of these names individually would make a building a historical treasure in its own right. The lodge, therefore, is a trifecta of historical significance.
The Hotel Hesperides was styled to be sort of a Pacific Northwest-take on a Swiss chalet. The builder spared no expenses to bring that vision to life. The building cost $50,000 at a time when the average annual wage in America was less than $400. The 30-room resort included first-class amenities, including bathrooms that had hot and cold running water, a billiard room, a barber shop and 22 Tiffany lanterns in the dining rooms.
Not only was the resort a location for members of the upper crust to relax in luxury, but a spot for middle-class travelers to visit as part of their Sunday drives in the country. The hotel, after all, was located right next to the pre-Narrows Bridge ferry dock that shuttled people from Tacoma to Gig Harbor. A steady flow of travelers enjoyed leisurely brunches or evening cocktails in the restaurant while they waited for the Washington Navigation Co.’s water shuttles to arrive.
But the hotel’s time as “the place” to stay for the wealthy set was short lived. The hotel only operated for a decade before it closed. Titlow’s death in 1923 led to the land and hotel shifting over to Metro Parks Tacoma, which renamed the building Titlow Lodge in his honor. Metro Parks had plans to tear down the hotel in 1937, but those plans were changed when local citizens rallied to save the former hotel. The top floors of the former were removed as part of a Works Projects Administration project that also renovated the lower floors to be used as public spaces. The lodge served as the residence for the assistant superintendent for parks and then for the caretaker for the park until 1990. It was then rented out for events or used for parks programs.
The lodge has been upgraded a few times over the passing decades, most recently in 2011, but Sayre would most certainly recognize his handy work. That’s not likely going to change, even as Metro Park sets out refining its master plan on what park goers want at the 75-acre park.
That’s good news for one local woman, Emily Happy. She is Sayre’s great granddaughter.
Happy grew up hearing family stories about all the buildings Sayre built. Her father was local historian Cyrus Happy, III after all. The stories were, however, just tales that were told to pass time back then.
“I just didn’t retain it,” she said, noting that those tales took on whole new meanings with the birth of her daughter and some research. “It has been really fun to see old photographs of places he built.”
One particular image stands out – a photo of the house Sayre built for his family.
“I sat and wept looking at it,” Happy said. “It was really so close to home.”
Now, Happy can visit a place with family ties that is also enjoyed by thousands of visitors to Titlow Park.