In 1928—a few years shy of 88 years ago—Tacoma’s Garden Club established a plan to honor those who served in WW I. Many organizations and individuals in the county funded placement of 500 trees. On March 16, 1928, a stretch of U.S. 99 was dedicated. During the following decades, though, a large portion of those trees were removed to accommodate the enlarging roadway and I-5 construction, until today, there are only about 66 trees remaining.
In the 1980s a group of local preservationists, including Tacoma Historical Society member Charlotte Medlock, waged a successful campaign to have those trees saved. In 1989 Pierce County council signed a resolution to recognize the importance of preserving that section of roadway as a visible tribute to the sacrifices borne by many in the nation’s defense.
With more widening along the I-5 corridor scheduled, though, and other trees scheduled to be removed, placement of a commemorative marker is planned and that section of the road, from Milepost 116-to MP 125 to be named “The Remembrance Corridor.” The area originally extended from the Nisqually River to the Tacoma City Limits.
The original dedication ceremony in 1928 took place, according to Dr. Duane C. Denfeld’s HeritageLink essay of 2010, at Ft. Lewis where a tree was planted by Anna H. Weyerhaeuser to honor MG Henry Green, the first Camp Lewis commander and 91st Division Commander.
Supporters purchased trees for $6 each. A stone and copper plaque recording the honored person or organization was placed next to the tree. Jonathan Haley of Brown and Haley Co. and the Tacoma Rotary Club were early tree sponsors.
The idea for the Boulevard was proposed at the end of WW I by the American Forestry Association, and these Roads of Remembrance were established in Washington communities and across the nation.
Despite grand plans after the stock market crash in 1929 and the Great Depression that followed, attention was diverted from the remembrance. The final tree was planted at Country Club Road and honored Bishop Frederick W. Keator. About 500 trees were planted along six miles of the Pacific Highway, but in the years that followed the boulevard did not receive much attention. After WW II Pacific Highway became a Blue Star Memorial Highway, and the Capital District Garden Club placed a monument on the Boulevard of Remembrance. (During WW II blue stars were displayed in the windows of homes having a son or daughter in the service.)
In the intervening years, for various reasons, most of the trees were removed (potential safety hazards, road widening, etc.) The Department of Transportation made an effort to preserve the oaks. Today the surviving trees are best viewed in the Tillicum area. According to Dr. Denfeld, there are no known existing lists of the dedications or the plaques. A WW I Monument, the 91st division monument on JBLM, survives to honor the division’s fallen.
In October, Washington’s Transportation Commission was expected to approve naming I-5 between Nisqually and Lakewood as “the Boulevard of Remembrance.” Part of the motivation is to make up for decades of forgetfulness, but it is also because many of the remaining trees along the highway will be cut down to make way for additional lanes.
At 2 p.m. on Nov. 11, 2016 at Lakewood City Hall, a special program about the boulevard was to be held.
Footnote: Polly Medlock shared her files, petitions and related historic materials for this interview. A founding member of THS, Mrs. Medlock strongly believes this corridor should be remarked.
Dr. Denfield is affiliated with JBLM’s Cultural Affairs office and has authored numerous Army history articles for HistoryLink.org