If you haven’t already cracked the code, next time you see a heartlike sticker on the back of a car in the South Sound area, just tilt your head to the side and you’ll see the numbers 253 are creating the lovely shape.
And then you’ll notice that 253 heart symbol everywhere around the area — on the backs of cars, on T-shirts, hats, necklaces, and more.
It comes in many sizes and colors, including blue and green for the 12s, purple and gold for the 253 Dawgs, crimson and gray for the 253 Cougs, and rainbow for the LGBQT community.
It all started in Christmas 2007 in Tacoma — cue the wavy flashback transition. The front man of rock band Motopony, Daniel Blue, didn’t have anywhere to go for Christmas. Instead he decided to enjoy the sunny Pacific Northwest day riding his bike around Tacoma.
Blue found himself in the company of some folks who had been Dumpster diving for discarded produce and they invited him to a nearby home for a Christmas meal.
It was that act that inspired Blue to start sketching as his hosts cooked veggie spaghetti.
“In the spirit of community I was excited about expressing love for a place,” Blue said. “Tacoma kind of became my family, and where my heart was.”
Blue explains that his heart creation was pure happenstance.
“I was experimenting with a type of graffiti where you don’t pick up the pen, which kind of allows you to write a little faster once you sort of learn the shape really well,” he said. “I figured out a way to write those three numbers without picking up the pen. I was doing it over and over trying to get my muscle memory down and at some point I was just like ‘Whoa. That’s a heart.’”
Longtime friend, former band manager, and current owner of the 253 heart design, Steve Naccarato, credits some of Blue’s success in Motopony to the 253 heart, and its meager yet crucial income, which helped him get by while his music career was taking off.
“I always felt that it was a gift to Daniel,” said Naccarato. “The way it happened; he just sat down to doodle and out came this design in the shape of a heart with our area code in it. It was just one of the little pieces that allowed him to keep pursuing his heart, his dream.”
Since that Christmas the 253 heart has been embraced by Pierce County residents from every corner of the area code and beyond, but there’s always a few who don’t understand it or just plain get it wrong.
“The one that I hear a lot of, and I personally don’t see it at all, is a mother holding a baby,” marveled Naccarato. “I’ve heard that at least 20 times and how they get that, I just don’t know.”
Whatever it looks like, Blue hopes that the meaning remains the same.
“To me, love of the area code is kind of like what will heal the world,” he said. “I think operating on what can I touch and where can I give kindness, and believing that has an affect on the world as a whole, is really what I was trying to say.”
Inevitably, Blue found that he’d have to leave the 253 area for the opportunities a bigger city like Seattle could offer. He soon realized if he wanted to make his dreams a reality, this meant giving up his design.
“I moved and ended up needing a new cellphone,” he said. “They gave me a 206 number and I was just like, ‘I don’t really deserve to be the guy that shows the 253 heart if I have a 206 number.’ I’m about authenticity and living out my proclamations.”
Faced with this reality, Blue turned to Naccarato to carry on the 253 heart in 2010.
“Tacoma kind of became my family, and where my heart was.”
“I trust Steve,” Blue said. “I released it to him and I’m confident that he’s not going to cross the ideology that it belongs to. It’s just continued to spread as a symbol of loving place the way I intended.”
Naccarato teamed up with Gig Harbor-based 7 Seas Brewing with the release of the 253 Pilsner, which bears the heart. A portion of proceeds benefit local organizations.
Additionally, Naccarato has encouraged local artists to put their own spin on the design by producing art based on it. In the future, Naccarato hopes to further the brand even more.
“I was hoping to find one really good tattoo artist in town that we could have as the official tattoo artist for 253; so far we haven’t found one,” he said. ”But my dream over the next couple of years is to start a 253 Heart music festival in a big way. Tacoma doesn’t really have one great go-to summer concert event. Of course, Motopony would headline that first year, and Daniel will come full circle.”
Do you have a South Sound-related question you’d like our In the Know team to find out more about? Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.