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Tacoma's roots can be traced to the original settlers of the Central neighborhood.
It has blossomed into a collection of working-class homes, apartments and businesses that makes up about 9 percent of Tacoma's land area and 11 percent of its population since the late 1800s.

" It's aptly named," said city historian Michael Sullivan. "If you want a central understanding of the city, this is the place to learn it."
the Central area evolved around streetcars that connected the city's bluff with downtown, which hugs the waterfront down the hill, unlike the newer North End where homeowners relied cars. The streetcars gave rise to the neighborhood's two main commercial strips along Sixth Avenue and K Street, which today is Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Though it's home to nearly 21,000 people, the Central area is the second least populous of the seven neighborhood council areas in Tacoma.
The Central neighborhood's borders include Sixth Avenue on the north, Tacoma Avenue on the east, Center Street on the south, and Highway 16 on the west.

The area has long been home to diverse cultures which have taken it through different forms over the decades. It grew with the arrival of Scandinavian, Italian, Greek, German and Irish immigrants. As they prospered, Sullivan said, the first settlers moved to other city neighborhoods, or the suburbs.

In recent years, the Central area has been known as a mixture of white, black, Asian American and Hispanic cultures. It includes the city's largest percentage of black residents, 21.7 percent, as measured by the 2000 Census. Though George P. Riley, an early black settler, moved to the neighborhood in the 1860s, most blacks settled the area after World War II. Later, Asians arrived in the neighborhood after the Vietnam War, Sullivan said.

Tacomans who remember how drug dealing and crime plagued K Street in the late 1980s might be surprised to learn that the street once was a thriving strip of ethnic clubs and nightclubs. John Chen Beckwith, the housing and economic development director of the Martin Luther King Housing Development Association, keeps a historic photo near his desk of a crowd of hundreds who filled K Street on a New Year's Eve in the 1930s. The photo, he said, offers him inspiration for how the neighborhood could once again become popular and vibrant.

Beckwith sees a turnaround coming in improved land values.
" In this last year, we've seen values jump an average of one and a half percent a month," he said. "I'm seeing small and large investors coming in."

Joseph Decosmo of Seattle is one such investor, who has owned a building at 1216 1/2 Martin Luther King Jr. Way the past six years. In recent weeks, he's begun scheduling nonalcoholic Friday night socials and dances at what he calls "Joseph's Jazz Club." For now, a disc jockey plays the music. Tacoma's downtown redevelopment, including its new museums and the growing University of Washington Tacoma campus, encouraged Decosmo to buy the building.
" I have every reason to be optimistic about the investment," he said. "Eventually, we hope to attract musicians to that space."

The housing development association maintains 325 rentals in the neighborhood and in the past three years has managed the construction of 10 to 12 new homes a year.
" Good housing stock revitalizes a neighborhood," Beckwith said. "It's providing the critical mass of people necessary to create shoppers and further economic development."

At least one major retailer, Rite Aid, responded to the improvements by opening a $5 million pharmacy on Martin Luther King Jr. Way around 1998. An estimated 35 small businesses moved into the neighborhood in the past decade, as police and residents fought to reduce crime, many along Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, said Morris McCollum, chairman of the Upper Tacoma Business Association.
" One great thing has been the nearby University of Washington campus," said McCollum, who has owned Mr. Mac Ltd. clothing store in the neighborhood the past 18 years. "Another strength is that we have two great hospitals (St. Joseph's and Tacoma General) here and many churches."

McCollum credited longtime residents who formed block watch groups and the police for a reduction in crime the past 15 years.
" We reduced it by just putting pressure on the police that we needed more attention up here," McCollum said.

Sixth Avenue also has seen renewed retail activity the past decade, including a couple of cafes, restaurants and a nightclub; Jazzbones.
" These were good commercial buildings that were rentable at a low cost," Sullivan said. "They were buildings that lent themselves to being turned around."

Regardless of the area's gradual recovery, challenges remain, said Steve Apling, chairman of the Central Neighborhood Council.
The neighborhood still has its share of "nuisance properties" with various code violations, Apling said. Budget problems also leave the city unable to tow abandoned cars and the Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma unable to maintain parks and keep them all open, he said. Next year, the district may stop maintaining Ferry Park, which sits near Apling's home. He fears it will mean a return of drug dealing in the park.
But Apling credits city police for their response to calls for help.
" Whenever I have a problem, I call or e-mail our substation and we get results," he said. "They're a very good resource."

Community Phone Numbers

Chamber of Commerce . . . . . . . . . . . . . 627-2175
City Hall list of phone numbers
DSHS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1-877-501-2233
Washington State Dept. of Parks . . . (360) 902-8593
Christmas Tree Permits . . . . . . . . . . . . . .494-5515
Tenant/Landlord Information . . . . . . . . . .591-7240
or 1-800-752-9993
Puyallup Fair
Administration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .845-1771
General Information . . . . . . . . . . . . . .841-5045

Senior Referral Numbers

City of Tacoma and Pierce County. . . . . . . . . . . . . 253-591-5090
or 1-800-562-0332
Home & Community Services
Long Term Care Services
(DSHS) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .253-593-6164
or 593-6165
or 1-800-442-5129
Pierce County Human Services Aging & Long Term Care . . . . . . . .253-798-7236 or 1-800-642-5769
Food Stamp Program . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1-877-501-2233
Energy Assistance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1-877-501-2233
Prescription Assistance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1-877-501-2233
Low Income Housing Pierce County Community Service . . .798-7240 or 1-800-562-0336
Pierce Co Housing Authority . . . . . . . . . . . .535-4400
Meals on Wheels Lutheran Social Services . . . .(Ext. 225) 474-1300

Housing and Shelters

Family renewal shelter (253) 475-9010
UWPC - HelpLine Quicklist 253-627-3962
Emergency Family Shelter The Salvation Army - Northwest Division  253-272-1974
G Street Shelter (MLKHDA) 253-627-6466
Men’s Mission 253-383-4493
Single Men’s Overnight Shelter (MLKHDA) Martin Luther King Housing Development Association 253-627-6466
Tacoma Avenue Shelter 253-572-0131
Exodus Housing: Transitional Housing for South King and Pierce Counties 253-862-6808
Guadalupe House 253-572-6582
Helping Hand House 253-848-6096
Hope Guest Home 253-627-3620
Jump Start, Faith Homes 253-572-0458
Lakewood Area Shelter Association 253-581-8689
Meet Me Ministries 253-404-1745
Network Tacoma 253-474-9334
Phoenix Housing Network 253-471-5340
Shared Housing  253-272-1532
Sojourner Housing 253-272-1529
The Caring Place 253-272-3011
Veterans Independent Enterprises of Washington 253-922-5650
Tyler Square 253-627-4308

Specifically for women

Another Chance for Women and Children, Pierce County First Source 253-572-8170
Women In Transition 253-383-4050
Single Women’s Overnight Shelter (MLKHDA) Martin Luther King Housing Development Association  253-627-6466
YWCA Women’s Support (domestic violence) 253-383-2593
Tacoma Ave Women's Shelter (253) 572-0131 ext.12


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Central Tacoma Quick Facts (from 2001)

Population: 20,789
Race: 60.2 percent white; 21.7 percent black; 2 percent American Indian/Alaska Native; 6.3 percent Asian American; 0.8 percent Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian; 6.8 percent multiracial; 2.2 other.
Owner-occupied homes: 53 percent.
Military: less than 1 percent.
Those 25 or older with bachelor's degree or higher: 15 percent.
Median household income: $33,000.
2001 average home value: $99,000.

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