One of Our Many FIreplaces
One of Our Many FIreplaces

A Brief History

Lucius R. Manning, the original owner of the estate, was responsible for procuring the land at Commencement Bay for the Northern Pacific Railroad Terminus. This was a critical step in establishing trade with the Orient in the late 1800’s. According to the papers of its time, this hillside estate was the earliest example of landscape gardening in the Pacific Northwest. When most people were hauling rocks out of their yards, the Mannings were hauling them into the yard. The same architect who designed Wright Park (27 acre park 3 blocks away) also designed the grounds for the Manning Estate.

The grand Victorian mansion was designed for entertaining, each downstairs room opening onto the next. Newspapers wrote about the chandeliers and mantels filled with festive floral arrangements from the estate gardens to reflect the changing seasons. Lucy and Lucius Manning spared no expense in bringing the great outdoors into their home to impress Tacoma’s wealthy and influential crowd.

Although the newspapers initially made fun of them, no one could deny the beauty of the rolling grounds and greenery spilling from the rocks on the hillside, once the gardens had matured. People came from miles around to wonder at the hillside marvel. Chinaberry Hill, Tacoma’s historic inn, retains a small portion of the original gardens, with evergreens, maples, and cherry trees, ferns, foxglove, and roses, and rock walls supporting great trunks of ivy and 100+ year old rhododendron trees.

The fan shown here was presented to Manning by the China Trade commission at the first anniversary of the opening of the port. The Chinese characters along the side tell us that the China Trade commission presented these fans to honor those entrepreneurs, both in China and America, for having the vision and cooperative spirit to establish trade between the two countries.

The ancient (and very gnarled) cherry tree on the east side of Chinabeberry Hill is the oldest known specimen of a recently discovered native Washington hybrid, Prunus Pugetensis. The inn was instrumental in helping A. L. Jacobson and P. F. Zika (University of Washington) collect specimen foliage and blossoms for identification.

We learned that the life of a tree geek can be quite exciting, especially when you are on the verge of a great discovery. We dutifully collected fallen blossoms and seed bits for their next visit, which helped to secure their classification and the naming of a new native hybrid. Of course, we were thrilled to be a part of the excitement and began throwing out suggestions for the name of this rapidly decaying but now very much appreciated tree. We thought the Jacobson Zika sounded nice, or perhaps the Jazika Cherry. But when asked if they were going to name it after themselves they quickly dismissed the thought with a “no, that would be tacky.”

Science. It’s a different world.

We considered renaming the inn to The Prunus Pugetensis in honor of this new recognition in the scientific community… but only for a few moments. At least the tree’s happy. It knows that no matter how gnarly looking it gets, it has a place of honor in the garden – and no one even dares to think about hacking it down.

The Pacific Rim Connection

tugboat race
Tugboat Race

And the race was on! (at left is a photo of a tugboat race from the 1996 Maritime Festival in Tacoma–the race included tugs from the 1800’s).

Both Seattle and Tacoma had their eye on becoming the center of trade in the Pacific Northwest. Tacoma made a couple of critical mistakes–they expelled their Chinese population in 1885 and did not allow any Chinese to settle in the area until 1920. Chinese businessmen and their families were put on trains to Seattle and Portland, thus ensuring that both cities would establish strong trading links with China–many Chinese shipping companies boycotted Tacoma’s port in response to the treatment that was given to their fellow men.

The second error was timing. Seattle grew weary of the many delays in Tacoma’s railroad project. Finally, several of the Seattle rowdies set up their own railroad. Although the railroad was hastily thrown together, it once again proved that an idea quickly executed is often far superior to something better conceived but late to the table.

One businessman from the early 1900’s gave an interesting summary of the contrasts between the two communities. He maintained that a gentleman should live in Tacoma and invest in Seattle (remember, during that era most of Seattle’s funding came from taxing the “seamstresses” of Seattle, a great number of plucky, attractive women who knew better than to call out their true profession on tax forms).

Lucius Manning appeared to have followed the above advice. He went on to open the Pacific Bank in Tacoma, then started his own investment firm, undoubtedly taking advantage of Seattle’s strengths in managing his Tacoma clients’ portfolios. Business was good – he maintained a half page advertisement for his services in the Polk directory during his entire career.