The Lute Dome: The Divide between PLU and Parkland

By Michael Pham

The fate of Pacific Lutheran University was once connected to the fate of Parkland. In the early 1850s, settlers began arriving in the area that became Parkland (Osness 4). An industrial boom in Parkland (the establishment of roads and new businesses in the late 1800s) led to desires for a school. PLU was built between 1890 and 1894 in response to these desires. Parkland came first, and provided PLU with students to teach and donations to maintain the school. In turn, PLU churned out knowledgeable students that carried on a Lutheran tradition. This relationship was reciprocal, with both sides gaining from constant interaction to build a community.

At this moment in time, PLU has become independent of Parkland, using its resources to create a modern university

Frugal’s Burgers, a classic drive thru burger joint (Courtesy of

with emphasis on the values of service and care. Parkland is a busy area now, with heavy traffic going along Pacific Avenue daily. Along Pacific Avenue are businesses large and small. There are restaurants serving varying cuisines (Asian, barbecue, Italian, as well as fast food restaurants like McDonalds and KFC). There are also several small barbershops, dental and healthcare practices, and banks. The diverse establishments along Pacific Avenue indicate that Parkland’s development is stuck between the past (smaller, family owned businesses) and future (modern business ventures that are owned by large corporations). These key differences between the university and Parkland have caused them to split into two separate spheres. This split between PLU and Parkland is problematic because the culture of Parkland is being lost. The broad values of service and care at the university are spread internationally to create relationships with other communities. According to PLU’s online website, 300 students participate in study away programs during the month-long January term. Semester long trips are held in locations including Spain, England, China and Mexico. However, efforts to build a successful relationship with the Parkland community are lacking. The course offering closest to PLU is located in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma. However, the Hilltop neighborhood is nearly ten miles away from the main campus. Students can practice service and care without traveling across continents to reach magical destinations. More resources should be put into students learning about the community surrounding them.

My project is determining how the divide between PLU and Parkland is functioning today. Understanding Parkland and PLU’s mutual history is essential to understanding the school’s transition from reciprocal beneficiary to independent culturally from Parkland. In addition, my observation of spaces (and people) was integral in defining the differences between the two entities.

Parkland and PLU Grow Together

The historical research by Richard Osness in From Wilderness to Suburbia provides more background on the state

A sketch of the original university (Courtesy of Scandinavians on the Pacific, Puget Sound by Thomas Shine)

of Parkland at PLU’s inception. During the late 1880s, Parkland experienced a period of rapid growth. In addition to an influx of settlers, this period saw the founding of 121st Street, Pacific Avenue and the beginning of railway operations that connected Parkland with nearby Spanaway (Osness 11). As a result of Parkland’s expansion, demand for a university that would accommodate the increasing population grew. The school that would later become PLU started as a two room school on one acre of land in 1887, and gradually added more rooms in the early 1890s (Osness 11).

The original school circa 1894 (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons)

In the 1890s, an economic crash hit the United States. As a result of the hard times that affected the nation, Parkland had shortages of money and a major decrease in land value. This affected the flow of support to PLU as well. To prevent stoppages in construction, an attempt was made to sell property bonds with half of the profits going to PLU, but this ended in 1892 (Osness 14). Despite the economic challenges, the donors purchased nine more acres of land to expand the school. To keep residents of Parkland updated on the status of the school’s construction and local events, The Lutheran University Herald, a local newspaper published monthly, began circulation in 1891 (Osness 13).

PLU’s early financial strains highlight a dependency on outside resources and the Parkland community to build and maintain the school. This required a concerted effort from the school’s founders to seek aid from various sources in Parkland and beyond it. Also, Parkland depended on PLU to produce business students, educators, teach foreigners English, and provide an education to people who didn’t have prior schooling (Osness 16). The students who graduated from PLU were then expected to make contributions to society within their area of expertise. For example, Dr. J.L. Rynning lived on Pacific Avenue, worked at PLU as a professor of

Dr. J.L. Rynning (Courtesy of the book Scandinavians on the Pacific, Puget Sound by Thomas Shine)

Natural History, and was the community’s only doctor (Stine 117). Rynning’s contributions highlight the importance of PLU’s members filling important roles in the community. In addition to Rynning, Reverend Harstad served the dual role of community pastor and founder of Pacific Lutheran University (Stine 133). Along with people, the buildings of PLU itself also provided church services to the community after the original building was completed (Osness 15).  At this point in their early history, PLU and Parkland depend on each other to train students to become professionals, and later funnel them into the jobs that the growing Parkland area needed.

PLU Moves Toward Independence

Between the 1940s and 1970s, population increases in the Parkland area (such as the return of soldiers from WWII and later Vietnam) caused the introduction of larger corporate stores such as Safeway and Food King, increasing memberships for the Parkland Light and Water Company to accommodate new residents, and the construction of suburbs on former areas of farmland (Osness 102). PLU also saw the need to expand, and more facilities were added on-campus at PLU (Osness 103). According to Osness, eleven buildings were added to the traditional campus between 1963 and 1971. On the surface, the addition of the buildings (including the Olson Gym, five new residence halls, a pool and auditorium) would appear to attract more people to attend the university, and also allow businesses to flourish. However, Osness reported a marked change in the nature of people moving into the Parkland community that harmed small businesses, but kept the university running strong. The strong military presence boosted the number of veterans that attended PLU (more than half of the incoming students were male veterans following WWII, which continued into the 1970s). Osness reflects this boom and the subsequent expansion by stating that “Although still a small community, new residents now outnumbered old ones” (Osness 102). While this statement may be directed at the Parkland community as a whole, it is important to observe that PLU graduates students every four years, and incoming students arrive each fall. This influx of “new residents” (military veterans or young students) also represents a huge impact on stores surrounding campus. Osness continues by saying that by the 1950s, new residents did not connect with small businesses meaningfully. He claims that residents “did not know the merchants personally, and so, felt no responsibility to shop in local businesses” because prices for goods were cheaper elsewhere, either at corporate stores or at the commissaries for members of the Armed Forces (Osness 102).

Again, Osness may be speaking about Parkland as a whole, but the influx of new students could make corporate stores a convenient option for kids trying to get basic needs items (food, toiletries, etc.) without developing a relationship with the owners. This line of thinking ultimately hurt small, family-owned businesses and fostered a new tradition of disconnect that continued between the end of WWII and the buildings added to PLU’s campus in the 1970s. The addition of more buildings on PLU’s campus (specifically the gym, pool, and auditorium) caused part of the problem that Parkland has today: PLU students look inward to use the school’s resources because they are conveniently close, entertain and are generally for the use of students alone instead of using community amenities. The Mortvedt Library is also an example of this issue because students no longer need to walk to the local Parkland library to access resources. Instead, the information is a stone’s throw away from their dorm rooms.

My Findings

The disconnect between PLU residents and Parkland that started following WWII continues to this day. Upon observing spaces that exemplify the clash between modern university values and the small-town atmosphere that Parkland once upheld, I found Garfield Street to be a major battleground where this clash is taking place.

At first glance when taking a stroll down Garfield Street, one notices contrasting spaces quickly. Closer to the end of the street where Harstad dorm is located are older buildings with an assortment of businesses: a tattoo shop, a hobby store and a Mexican restaurant. Towards Pacific Avenue are buildings that exemplify modern architecture: the developing Garfield Station Apartments and PLU’s Garfield Bookstore. Upon further investigation of two of these spaces, Reyna’s Mexican Restaurant and the Garfield Book Company, the divide in culture between Parkland and PLU is clearly seen.

Inside of Reyna’s Mexican Restaurant, family pictures and newspaper clippings adorn the walls. The front counter has fliers and pamphlets advertising other businesses nearby, including the bowling alley. Upon being seated, the owner of the restaurant, Felix Guzman, grabs a guitar and begins playing tunes. The food and decorations in the restaurant also call back to his Mexican heritage, with wood carved seats and brick arches reminiscent of Hispanic architecture.   Within a few minutes of being at Reyna’s, I’ve determined something that I feel about this space: a homey comfort that parallels with the businesses of Osness’ history: ones that serve as gathering places for neighbors while encouraging the spread of information and conversation. While this restaurant does not serve the same foods of Osness’ Parkland’s historical account (like pot roast or liver), the intent of the space is the same: to create a

Reynas owner Felix Guzman (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons)

community atmosphere, and to serve as a place for discussion among neighbors (Osness 15). The subtle touch of placing local newspapers and advertisements near the register makes the owner himself a local figurehead. In Jane Jacobs’ book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, she would describe this restaurant owner as a public character: a person that “talks to lots of different people” and whose function is to disseminate news that is “of sidewalk interest” (Jacobs 68). The owner of Reyna’s has made himself an advocate for the historical culture of Parkland: he is a leader that uses his position as a restaurant owner to teach others about his family traditions, paralleling with the spread of Scandinavian customs in the Parkland area after the arrival of settlers in the 1800s. The placement of local advertising in the restaurant also draws back to the Lutheran University Herald newspaper of the 1890s, because of the dispersal of information that is of interest to local residents and the community as a whole. Also, this information calls for residents and students alike to explore the area surrounding them, urging them to engage with other people through activities like bowling or purchase items on sale from other businesses.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Garfield Book Company is a different type of business. Across the street from the Garfield Station Apartments, the book company is owned by PLU and was established in 2007

Garfield Book Company (Courtesy of Mast Media at PLU)

( The store is home to assorted knick knacks, PLU gear, and student textbooks. The space itself is fairly open, with large glass windows and long, sharply-angled stairs. Like Reyna’s, the store also has fliers and pamphlets. However, these fliers are advertising events at PLU and (sometimes) apartments for rent very close to campus. This information is not relevant to the Parkland community, but specifically targets students and their families, persuading them to become immersed in life on campus.

The workers at Garfield work for the university. This means that there are not any discussions that take place between cashier and customer that require a deeper connection. Observing the system from afar, the concept is to provide service to the customer that is university specific: buying books needed for courses, clothes for events, and memorabilia to be given to family members.

Upon discussion with students, I learned that their problem with Garfield Book Company is not the lack of relationship between customer and provider. Instead, it is the distance from campus that is a cause for complaint. During two of my interviews, the distance between the store and PLU was described as “inconvenient” or “a pain”. This claim was followed up by supporting evidence that carrying items from the store back to campus was frustrating (the weight and number of books, and fear that an item might be dropped or lost along the way). While I understand the problem with lugging stacks of books back to campus, I can’t help but think that I was being fed the nice answer. I think the problem students have with the distance between the bookstore and PLU is the journey to the destination.

In the sidewalk space between the dental office and the small Garfield market are public benches and grass. Several times in my experiences going to and from the bookstore, I’ve run into students that I know near these benches. I made a note of the types of conversations that I had near this space with these students. They are short and rushed interactions, usually with the other person awkwardly trying to reach their destination as quickly as possible. A common denominator in all of these interactions is the presence of Parkland residents sitting along on the benches and mingling near the sidewalk. These quick conversations with classmates and friends prove that there is a type of fear that resonates among students about Parkland residents. On numerous occasions during my observations, the other student would look behind their shoulder, as if there is a worry that something bad is going to happen. There is fear of a culture that students do not understand. The people occupying this space are not unlike students. There are colorful hats, pets, laughs and information being shared. So why are students so afraid?

A parallel to the university/bookstore conundrum was explored by Christine McKenna in University-Community Relations. This article covered the relationship between students and residents at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. The chancellor of the school proposed a downtown location for a new campus bookstore, believing making the location off campus would encourage students to shop in local businesses, and interact with residents of the community on a regular basis (McKenna 27). Unfortunately, this proposal angered students, forcing a compromise that allowed only university clothing to be sold at the store, with textbooks being sold in stores on campus (McKenna 28). The students were angered by this idea because of a history of incidents that led to tensions between residents and students. These incidents included student parties gone out of control, forcing the university to enact sanctions for community benefit if students continued this behavior (McKenna 26).

McKenna’s outlining of the problems at UMass-Lowell shed some light on the issues that are striking daily dealings between PLU students and Parkland community members. Today, students at the university are instilled with ideals of service and care. These ideals have created a desire to save the world, stretching the continents in formalized study-abroad programming. In Parkland, the ideals of service and care are done informally. Service and care are

The Morken Center (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

seen in the respect for home-grown businesses, and completed neighbor to neighbor in everyday actions. PLU’s progressive nature and resources have led to new, high-tech facilities on-campus (such as the Morken Center for Learning & Technology) that clash with the traditional, older homes and businesses nearby the campus. I’ve observed that students are more likely to stick to campus, and are nervous about what is beyond their front door.

PLU students don’t need to go very far to practice community service and care. In a sense, service and care don’t need to be large projects that are geared at helping the needy. Instead, service could be redefined as going out into the community and learning about its rich history, and taking the time to learn more about the area itself. Care can be practiced by working to spread knowledge of Parkland traditions, and working to eliminate the fear that students may have about the people that operate within a different sphere from themselves. PLU certainly needs Parkland to practice their values, and Parkland needs PLU to maintain the historical support for businesses and residents.


Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House, 1961.

McKenna, Christine. “University-Community Relations.” Connection 1999.

Osness, Richard. From Wilderness to Suburbia: An Illustrated History of Parkland, Washington. Western Media Printing, INC, 1976.

PLU. History of Garfield Book Company. April 2015. Webpage. <>.

Stine, Thomas Ostenson. Scandinavians on the Pacific, Puget Sound. 2013 March 2013. 17 May 2015.