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Willows Corner was once the center of attention

by Carl Vest

On South Hill there exists a road intersection that has considerable historic meaning to many old-timers.  It’s the T-bone point where present-day 112th Street and Meridian Avenue come together.  Over time this spot has been known by a number of names.  During the Hill’s early development period it was recognized as Kupfer’s Corner.  Later, and more recently, it was called Willows Corner. Currently it probably would be dubbed the South Hill Mall and adjacent areas.  During the 1920s and 30s, however, it was a place of destination for many people of Pierce County, including people from as far away as Tacoma; but not for retail shopping reasons.

This intersection was called Kupfer’s Corner because a family named Kupfer settled there.  As early as 1915 several members of the Kupfer family owned land on the east side of Meridian extending both north and south from the intersection, totaling over 240 acres.  By the 1920s the corner had a grocery store, a gas station, and other commercial endeavors.

As time passed the corner gradually became known as Willows Corner.  This shift came about because of a number of very large willow trees that dominated the landscape. The trees were located at about where the Borders bookstore is now situated. Reference to the trees made giving directions easier when speaking to people that didn’t know the Hill.  The name “willows” has stuck and many contemporary local business ventures use “willows” as part of their business names.  Moreover, one part of the intersection’s retail area is called the Willows Shopping Center (built in 1973).

But willow trees were not limited to just one location. They were scattered all about the local area, on both sides of Meridian Avenue and 112th Street (the street for many-many years being known as Airport Road).  Long-time Willows Corner resident, Bill Goelzer, for example, remembers when he was a youngster making whistles from the willows growing along side the road while waiting for the school bus.

Why was Willows Corner a destination spot?  The main reason was that during the 1920s and 30s one of the businesses operating there was the Willows Dance Hall.  It was sited on 112th Street about where the US Bank building is now located, just west of the intersection.  This dance hall was very popular.  Live music was always on the program and a variety of local and regional bands played there.  Advertisements in the local newspapers of the time declare that the admission price was 75-cents for gentlemen and 25-cents for ladies. Reportedly it was a particularly popular location during the prohibition period.

The Willows Dance Hall experienced several catastrophic events during its lifetime.  The roof caved in because of heavy snow during one winter (1930s).  Finally, it caught fire and completely burned. Some old timers think it burned in the early 1940s, others say it was the mid-1940s.  Whichever, it was never rebuilt.  Today there is no evidence of the dance hall and the site has been redeveloped.  And people come to the corner for entirely different reasons!

Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.