Shrine to Tacoma's Super-Salesman
Allen C. Mason is an obscure figure, even in his adopted city. But a grateful Tacoma has built him a great statue, and that makes him someone worth getting to know.
Mason arrived in the Pacific Northwest from Illinois in 1883, nearly broke. But he believed in Tacoma, and within a year he was on his way to becoming its first millionaire.
Mason bought cheap woodland on the north edge of town and divided it into house lots. He borrowed money to build bridges and streetcar lines, then gave Tacoma the bridges and the land for what is now called Puget Park.
Plaques around Mason's statue praise these acts of generosity, but the bridges were built to carry the streetcars, and the streetcars were built to carry people from downtown -- now home to places like Bob's Java Jive -- up to Mason's empty lots. The lots were sold by Mason for a considerable profit.
It was the same with the Park, which sat on land that Mason deemed unsuitable for construction, but whose creation instantly boosted the resale price of all of the property around it.
Mason realized that the U.S. was full of potential buyers for his real estate. All that they needed was a reason to come to Tacoma. Mason gave it to them. He wrote over 100 slogans that praised the city, then placed them as radiant rays in the shape of a star. He called it Tacoma's "Star of Destiny" and had it printed in full-page newspaper ads in far-flung cities like Cincinnati and New York. His glowing pronouncements told weary Easterners and Midwesterners what they wanted to hear:
"No tornadoes nor hurricanes."
"No poisonous bugs nor reptiles."
"Nights always cool and conducive to sound sleep."
"Lowest death rate in the U.S."
"Ideal for Retired Capitalists."
Mason's Star of Destiny is reproduced on the sidewalk in front of his statue. Behind it stands Mason himself, in bronze. He is surprisingly small for such a larger-than-life man -- a natty Mr. Peanut with a big top hat and a twinkle in his eye. He's posed as if thrusting forward, cigars jutting from his vest pocket, eager to pump your hand, ready to close a deal.
His palm is meant to be grasped, but it has not yet been burnished by countless hands, partly because his statue is fairly new, and partly because not many people visit this out-of-the-way suburb.
Mason reached the peak of his power in 1892. He built a 36-room mansion as both his home and a model for a luxury neighborhood that he wanted to subdivide. But the Panic of 1893 ruined him. Legend has it that he bankrupted himself by vowing to buy back any house that he had sold that its owner could no longer afford. Too many people took him up on his offer. He was only 37.
Mason's mansion was knocked down in 1922 and an even more lavish home was built on the spot by lumber baron John Weyerhaeuser. By then, no one needed to be sold on the value of Tacoma real estate, and Mason was dead.
Six sandstone columns from his front porch were all that survived, and they now serve as sentinels for the statue of Tacoma's Super Salesman.