In the mind of nineteenth-century America's most influential and imaginative city planner, Frederick Law Olmsted, Tacoma was to be a city born in a burst. It would be a sudden metropolis at the edge of wilderness and ocean, joined by elliptical city blocks, long, sweeping boulevards and modern urban parks. From the moment he finished the plan until word reached him that his design was being abandoned altogether, only forty-three days passed. No work was ever done in Tacoma that followed the Olmsted plan. No road or park was ever graded, no building ever started, no tree cut or planted. The Frederick Law Olmsted plan for the City of Tacoma existed only in FLO's imagination, on a few sheets of sketch paper that remain in the Olmsted archives in Brookline Massachusetts and in a masterful drawing that was completed in December 1873.
DEADLINES, DEBTS AND PAYROLL Olmsted was commissioned on September 19, 1873, by the powerful forces of the Northern Pacific Railway Company to plan a terminal city at the Puget Sound conclusion of the transcontinental railroad. Just two months before, the Northern Paciἀc had selected Commencement Bay for the point where rails from the Great Lakes would reach the saltwater of the Pacific Ocean. Although chartered by Abraham Lincoln himself in 1864 and lavished by the federal government with millions of acres of land, the railroad was almost out of money by 1873. As deadlines, debts and payrolls closed in, the railroad raced to reach saltwater by the end of the year and to convert land into cash by selling big city real estate as fast as they could.