Property owners defy county, reduce Tanglewood Island icon to rubble

Roof torn off Tanglewood Island building, once home to a boys camp and a landmark for nearby Fox Island

Staff writerJanuary 29, 2014 

Despite an order from Pierce County to stop demolition, private property owners have torn down most of an iconic building at the northernmost tip of Tanglewood Island.

The only thing remaining from the pavilion that once held a private boys summer camp is a pile of timber and a partial white cement wall.

“They took the whole roof off over the weekend,” said Pierce County planner Ty Booth. “They are basically thumbing their nose at the county.”

On a clear day when Mount Rainier is visible, the rust-colored roof and white walls of the pavilion and neighboring lighthouse created a postcard-perfect setting against blue skies.

Tanglewood Island’s profile has become synonymous with nearby Fox Island.

“It’s a very important landmark for our island,” said Fox Island resident and local historian John Ohlson. “It’s probably the single most photographed feature of Fox Island.

“Now it’s going to be gone,” Ohlson said Tuesday.

County planners were tipped to the demolition Friday morning in an email from the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. The building and lighthouse are not listed on local or state historic registries, but somebody had contacted the state office.

By Friday afternoon one of Tanglewood Island’s property owners was face to face with county building officials who told him stop.

In a message left on a reporter’s voicemail Tuesday, Tanglewood Island Homeowners Association representative Mark Massmann said the demolition has been emotional for the few people who live on the 18-acre private island.

“After 70 years the building is in disrepair and was about to fall into the Sound, and we just decided to tear it down,” he said.

He did not address the stop-work order violation and did not leave a phone number for a return call.

Massmann and John Kleinwachter bought Tanglewood Island in July 2000 in a public auction for $672,352, according to Pierce County records. Kleinwachter owns property on the island; Massmann is listed on three parcels owned by the homeowners association, including the 6.65-acre site that housed the iconic rotunda.

The island was home to the Ta-ha-do-Wa Camps for Boys from 1946 to the early 1970s. The camp was started by Dr. Alfred Schultz, who bought the island in 1933 from Tacoma undertaker Conrad Hoska. It was named Grave Island because it is an ancient Indian burial ground for the Nisqually Tribe. Hoska’s wife changed the name to Tanglewood.

Schultz erected the building that became the showpiece of the camp, as well as a small lighthouse. The pavilion held the dining area, play and meeting rooms and showers, according to Pierce County historical records. The lighthouse held Schultz’s office and an infirmary.

The Schultz family sold the island in 1979. The pavilion was later available for rent for private events.

The county is discussing what penalty Tanglewood owners could face for violating the stop-work order. County officials believe work finally stopped Tuesday after a building official took a sheriff’s boat to the island and posted notices with Pierce County sheriff’s deputies present.

Penalties for violating county code include requiring property owners to acquire necessary permits and doubling fees; recording a certificate of noncompliance on the parcel, which would impact its title; or pursuing misdemeanor charges.

At a minimum, the property owners should have applied for a demolition permit and shoreline exemption before razing the building, Booth said. An environmental review is also needed because of its waterfront location.

He said he met with Tanglewood owners and told them about the permitting requirements.

“It’s just very, very frustrating,” Booth said. “… They’ve completely circumvented the process, although the outcome would have probably been the same.”

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467 brynn.grimley@

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