You can’t top the timing of arson at the pagoda for irony.
One person torched the Point Defiance Park icon. The very next day, last Saturday, thousands of Parks Appreciation Day volunteers were at work parties in Tacoma and elsewhere in Pierce County.
Some were bound for the Japanese Gardens surrounding the pagoda. More were supposed to use tools stored in the building’s basement for work on Point Defiance’s trails and beds. They worked different sites, but count on them to return to the pagoda.
That converted trolley stop is one of the touchstones in their treasured park. They are eager to revive it.
From the first fire alarm, the response has been pure Tacoma.
“They worked so hard,” said Melissa McGinnis, historic and cultural resource manager with Metro Parks Tacoma said of firefighters. “They were so sensitive.”
McGinnis was at the site all that long morning, and firefighters repeatedly told her “This is just a crime.”
Crime, of course, is the stale Tacoma cliche. The work party that happened the next day is the reality, the true Tacoma response. It’s also a sign of how Tacomans’ relationship with their parks has, like the parks themselves, evolved: People began to ask how they could help restore the building.
They are offering to raise money, scrub soot, replant gardens, paint, stain, do research and fine woodworking. They want their hands on the recovery.
“We’re compiling a list of names and abilities,” McGinnis said.
If you’d like to be on it, email your offer to email@example.com. Decisions on how people can be involved will come later.
“At this point, we are all in compile and assess mode,” McGinnis said.
There’s a bit of humor and gratitude in the mode. While no one wants a fire in a historic building, this one at least melted the ugly 1960s plastic ceiling lamps. It spared the shovels and rakes in the basement.
Those tools, often brought out for volunteers to use, are signs of evolution. Resources have shrunk, and parks management welcomes volunteers whose idea of healthy recreation is working hard.
Ebenezer Rhys Roberts, Tacoma’s first parks superintendent, made Point Defiance a refuge of healthy recreation and relaxation for hardworking people.
“It was an occasion to ride the streetcar and stroll through the park dressed to the nines,” McGinnis said. “There was a huge stream of people.”
They would alight from trolleys, walk through the station the pagoda would replace in 1913, then choose their path.
They could turn left to the formal gardens and pass The Lodge, where the Roberts family lived. It, like the Rose Garden and the rhododendrons Roberts collected, has been a constant.
They could turn to right onto the path to the waterfront, beach and boat house – another constant, though the boats have motors instead of oars now.
They might attend a concert at the band shell, a lovely structure so long gone, no one knows quite where it was. Now, instead of band shells, we have trucked-in stages at Taste of Tacoma.
They could visit the zoo. In 1891, it housed two deer and a possum. The bear den, bison, monkeys and a kangaroo would come later. The presence of a zoo has been a constant, McGinnis said. The way humans and animals experience it has evolved.
Later, people could rent horses and ride the trail that would become Five Mile Drive or squeal on the rides in the Funland amusement park. They could rent bathing suits and swim in the Nereids Baths’ heated salt water not far from the Asarco smelter. Kids could walk Never Never Land’s paths and, when they were teenagers, steal Humpty Dumpty.
Tastes changed, they all disappeared. The economy shifted away from forest industries, taking the money for Camp Six’s logging museum with it.
Kids could look, but not touch at Fort Nisqually.
That attraction, too, has evolved. The real antiques are safely stowed. Kids can set a settler’s table with reproductions, and get a sense of what it was like to grow up when an indoor pump was the height of technology.
It is their park. They want their hands on it. That is the new constant at Point Defiance.
The pagoda will be the better for it.