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Tacoma takes off: with a stunning new glass museum, Seattle's sister city launches into the future. (Travel).

As you walk through the doors of Tacoma's new Museum of Glass, you hear a roar. It's coming from the Hot Shop housed in the 90-foot, stainless-steel-sheathed cone that rises above the museum. A row of furnaces burning 2,400[degrees] at the bottom of an amphitheater--and you, along with 139 other guests, can enjoy the show.

Through the open doors of the furnaces you see a volcanic glow. Two assistants take molten glass from a furnace; a gaffer, the creative force on the team, begins to spin it into shape. Beads of sweat roll off the foreheads of the glass workers. You can see it all in detail, thanks to live close-ups of the process projected on a large screen overhead.

If you've ever doubted the maxim that creativity is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration, here is proof. And if you've ever doubted that cities, like people, can reinvent themselves, you're in for a surprise. The huge cone in which you're standing is a creative take on the wood burners of old Northwest sawmills: it symbolizes Tacoma's old warehouse district's transformation from industry to art.

If "Tacoma" and "center for art" strike you as a disconnect, believe it. The rave reviews in the papers are true: the Museum of Glass, which fills 75,000 square feet and cost $48 million to build, lives up to all the hype. And it's just one of the new attractions making Tacoma a real destination.

A day in downtown Tacoma

"Tacoma is going through an extraordinary transformation," says Bill Baarsma, the city's new mayor, whose Dutch grandfather settled here in the early 20th century. "It's the most exciting time since 1892, when the city was the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad and was the biggest city in the state."

Indeed, in the small, walkable area along Pacific Avenue between South 17th and South 21st Streets, you get a taste of the European street life that we Americans often envy: grand public spaces; clustered museums; and big bold outdoor art.

Start by meandering the esplanade along the Thea Foss Waterway. In addition to sculptures, you'll take in views of a delightful hodgepodge of boats, backed by the new suspension bridge and, on a clear day, Mount Rainier.

Next, visit the Museum of Glass, then cross the 500-foot Chihuly Bridge of Glass, named for glass artist Dale Chihuly. As you stroll the bridge, look left, right, and up. In one display, you'll see hundreds of sculptures of Chihuly glass in large windows along the walls; in another, glass forms are crowded into ceiling panels. On the open stretches of the bridge, columns fitted with enormous, irregular, iceberg-like chunks of what looks like glass punctuate the view out and over the city. In fact, these chunks are made of plastic that bears an uncanny resemblance to glass.

The Bridge of Glass joins two museums and also links modern Tacoma with a piece of the state's rich past: the Washington State History Museum. One of the last projects designed by noted architect Charles Moore, the history museum echoes the arching shapes of the nearby Union Station. Inside, life-size tableaux re-create moments in history, like Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery meeting the native Nez Perce. A 42 1/2-foot transmission tower replica appears just as the original did when it was erected by Tacoma Public Utilities in the 1930s, blinking lights and all.

From the history museum, walk down Pacific Avenue to see the large, dramatic display of Chihuly glass in the U.S. Federal Courthouse, housed in the grand Beaux Arts Union Station built in 1911.

Finally, head across Pacific to the University of Washington, Tacoma. Of the campus's 46 acres, 15 are fully developed. The campus, which has won awards from the American Institute of Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, fills one of the largest rows of late-l9th-century brick warehouses remaining in America. At street level, the buildings are filled with galleries, shops, and hole-in-the-wall eateries.

As you climb the 70-foot outdoor central staircase connecting Pacific with Jefferson Avenue, turn left midway up and walk to the library. This building was once the Snoqualmie Falls Power Company's transformer house, providing power for the city and its trolley system. In a three-story tower added to the renovated building, you can see a 19-foot-long chandelier composed of 900 pieces of hand-blown glass, entitled "Chinook Red Chandelier"--yet another work by Chihuly.

Only the beginning

More amazing new developments are in store. The Tacoma Art Museum is set to open May 3 of next year in a 50,000-square-foot structure designed by architect Antoine Predock. A light-rail system through downtown should begin carrying passengers by the middle of 2003, and a new downtown convention center is scheduled to open in 2004. The Harold E. LeMay Museum, with the world's largest privately owned collection of automobiles, is on the calendar for 2006.

And how does favorite son Dale Chihuly feel about all this? In his typically unpretentious style, he sounds like the president of the Booster Club: "This is such an exciting time for my hometown. Tacoma is a wonderful cultural destination in the Northwest, and I hope people will come and enjoy all that the city has to offer."

Which, in a word, is plenty.

RELATED ARTICLE: Gift-shopping for glass

Because public accessibility to the art glass scene in Tacoma is relatively new, dent expect galleries filled with glass to be lining the streets--at least, not yet. Here are four places to look for Quality glass art at good prices.

Bonnie Burns Glass Blowing Studio and Gallery. Glass artist Bonnie Burns sells her work from her studio. By appointment only. 1334 S. Fawcett Ave.; (253) 627-6556.

Hilltop Artists in Residence. This thriving glass-blowing program for at-risk youth is indicative of the emerging glass scene in Tacoma. Dale Chihuly and Tacoma Public Schools are both major sponsors. On school days, glass can be purchased at the Jason Lee Middle School Hot Shop. 602 N. Sprague St.; (253) 571-7670 (call before visiting).

Museum Store. The museum's gift shop is filled with excellent and affordable pieces of glass art, from hand-blown goblets and bowls to jewelry. Museum of Glass, ground floor; 1801 E. Dock St.; (866) 468-7386 or www.museumofglass.org

Off Hand Glassworks. Artist Jenifer Holmes blows glass and sells from her studio. By appointment only. 7 Beach Lane SW, Lakewood; (253) 984-7872.

* Attractions

Museum of Glass: International Center for Contemporary Art. Public parking under museum. Closed Mon. 1801 E. Dock St.; (866) 468-7386 or www.museumofglass. org

University of Washington, Tacoma. Campus is open for walking all hours; building hours vary. 1900 Pacific Ave.; (253) 692-4000 or www.tacoma.washington.edu

U.S. Federal Courthouse. Nine installations of Chihuly glass. You must show identification to enter the building. Mon-Fri 8-5. 1717 Pacific Ave. (in Union Station); (253) 572-9310.

Washington State History Museum. Closed Mon. 1911 Pacific Ave.; (888) 238-4373 or www.wshs.org

* Dining

Harmon Brewery & Restaurant. Good burgers and beers in a boisterous atmosphere. 1938 Pacific Ave.; (253) 383-2739 or www.harmonbrew.com

The Melting Pot. Fondue is back, and it's never been better. Cook your own entrees and desserts in a bubbling pot delivered to your table. 2121 Pacific Ave., (253) 535-3939 or www.meltingpotnw.com

Stanley & Seafort's. Great views out and over the city to Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. Excellent steak and fresh seafood, and an outrageous list of desserts. 115 E. 34th St.; (253) 473-7300.

* Lodging

La Quinta Inn & Conference Center. Close to the Tacoma Dome. From $80. 1425 E. 27th St.; (253) 383-0146 or www.laquinta.com

Sheraton Tacoma Hotel. In the heart of downtown. From $99. 1320 Broadway Plaza; (253) 572-3200 or www.sheratontacoma.com

Silver Cloud Inn--Tacoma. Opened in March 2002. All rooms have views of the water. From $119. 2317 N. Ruston Way; (253) 272-1300 or www.silvercloud.com
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Author:Lorton, Steven R.
Publication:Sunset
Date:Nov 1, 2002
Words:1318
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