The North Pacific Aquarium was built to replace the aging 1940 aquarium, a wooden building down on the waterfront that was rusting, rotting and leaking. Early ideas included moving it to the park’s “bus station” (now the Pagoda), but by 1961 the Park Board decided to build a new one inside the zoo complex, where the maintenance shops were.
After five years of planning and building, the aquarium opened on June 23, 1963. It cost only $325,000, partly paid for by a federal grant that also covered other improvements in the park.
To sustain it, the Zoo started charging admission: 50 cents for adults, 10 cents for children, with preschoolers free. Seal and penguin exhibits were built just outside – providing a new home for the ever-popular Dub Dub the seal – and the whole thing was fed with water directly from Puget Sound.
A Big Success
The NPA has remained a huge draw for Zoo visitors, who can see up close the stunning diversity of marine life that exists just steps away in Puget Sound.
During the 1980s it even held dioramas made by Pacific Lutheran University biology chair Jens Knudsen, showing Washington’s coastline and forest, magnified 20 times.
After the NPA closes, it will serve as a temporary home for the animals that will live in the new Pacific Seas Aquarium. Then we’ll drain it and make the building ready for future short-term and long-term use. The Zoo’s Capital Facilities Master Plan envisions the building’s transformation into a South America Exhibit, but there is currently no funding or timeline for that project.
Time for a New Aquarium
The 35,000-square-foot Pacific Seas Aquarium, to open this summer, will feature animals from the North Pacific; its Northwest Waters exhibit will showcase species in our own Puget Sound backyard. Plus, exciting new animals like green sea turtles, scalloped hammerhead sharks and spotted eagle rays will have homes in the stunning 275,000-gallon Baja Bay habitat. Construction of the new aquarium was made possible by a Metro Parks Tacoma bond issue approved by Tacoma voters in 2014.
End of an Era
Step Back in Time – 1963 Snapshot
President: John F. Kennedy
In the news: Civil rights movement, New York skyscrapers, talk about humans on the moon
Music: Beatle-mania swept the U.S.A.; the Rolling Stones released their first single
Gallon of gas: 30 cents
Loaf of bread: 22 cents
A house near Point Defiance Park: $22,500
Average wage: $84/week