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The History of Ruston Way

Tacoma Smelter Stack Implosion Video

The former Asarco Stack was 571 feet before earthquake damage and after necessary repairs, the stack stood 562 feet tall overlooking the Puget Sound. The stack implosion occurred on January 17, 1993.


Ruston Way is a very popular boulevard that runs along the waterfront of Commencement Bay. It sits on a spectacular slice of shoreline that exemplifies the beauty of the Puget Sound, enhanced by the majesty of Mount Rainier.

Ruston Way also refers to an enticing three-mile-long scenic waterfront pathway with panoramic views of Commencement Bay. Ruston Way stretches from the Tahoma Salt Marsh near the South end to the North end where Point Ruston is currently being built. Between these points lies an active pathway enjoyed by joggers, walkers, roller bladers and bicyclists alike.

With all that it has going for it, did you know that Ruston Way is also one of the most historically rich places in Washington State?

Origins of Ruston Way

Ruston Way has been an integral part of the fabric of Tacoma for nearly as long as the city has been in existence. In the 1800s, the Ruston Way area was developed as a mining town during America’s industrial revolution. It was at initially called Front Street, in a fashion similar to many other towns built near water in the 1800s and even today. At the time, Front Street was an ocean-centric industry hub dotted with mills, warehouses and boatyards.

By the 1880s, the town had grown closer to the Tide Flats of Tacoma. In 1888, an enterprising businessman named Denis Ryan built a smelter on the North end of the Tacoma waterfront. He hired William Rust to run what became the Tacoma Smelting & Refining Company. In 1890, Mr. Rust bought the smelter from Ryan and ran it so well that the town of Ruston was named in his honor.

Eventually, Mr. Rust sold the smelter to the Guggenheim Brothers company named American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO). ASARCO continued its operation throughout the 1900s and as the plant grew, so did the town. The smelter continued operating until 1985 when the Environmental Protection Agency forced its closure.

Front Street was renamed to Ruston Way in 1926, and became the main thoroughfare connecting Ruston and Tacoma. Two years later, Tacoma Metro Parks acquired an acre of land along Ruston Way, with the intent to one day build a public fishing area and boat launch.

Even into the 1960s, the city’s commissioners had great foresight for Ruston Way’s future development. In 1968, the city purchased more waterfront property to support the idea for Ruston Way as a “quality waterfront attraction.” It was this forward thinking that allowed Ruston Way to be a key facet of the city’s waterfront amenities, even to this day.

Throughout the 20th century, city representatives have made various attempts to broaden the appeal and usefulness of Ruston Way. However, only in the last decade has Ruston Way finally begun to evolve into its own, distinct character.

More Historical Interest

Old Town Dock was built in 1873 by the McCarver Street Wharf Company as the first public wharf in Tacoma to help service the shipping industry on the Sound. It stretches into the water at the intersection of Ruston Way and McCarver Street. The bulk of the shipping industry eventually moved its operations to the Tide Flats. The Dock was remodeled or rebuilt in 1916, 1929, 1953, 2000 and most recently, in 2013, when the city spent $2.3 million to renovate the dock and accommodate visitors again.

Today’s visitors to Old Town Dock have new amenities, from improved lighting to new benches, as well as new boat slips for 40- to 60-foot vessels. Placed all around the dock today are photos from its history, showing its inception from the 1870s to the current day. Besides being a great artifact of Ruston Way history, the dock also allows swimmers to jump (but not dive) off the dock. Fishing is prohibited around the pier but welcomed at the Les Davis and Point Defiance piers.

Top of the Ocean Restaurant

The Top of the Ocean restaurant is also a piece of Ruston Way history. That’s because it no longer exists! Unfortunately, an arsonist burned it down in 1977. The restaurant was located at 2211 Ruston Way in Tacoma, and today, its location is identified by a nautical marker and plaque in Marine Park that shows additional information on its historical significance. From its opening before Christmas in 1946 to its fiery end, the 700-person capacity Top of the Ocean restaurant was a favorite among Tacoma diners.

Learning and re-learning our local history is important to create a sense of belonging for residents and visitors of Tacoma alike. Point Ruston is proud to be one of the largest transformations in Tacoma Waterfront history adding a tremendous amount of public amenities and linking Ruston Way with Pt. Defiance Park.