Larry LaRue: Old Town hopes now's the time to get its long-lost salmon back

Staff WriterFebruary 17, 2014 

When the snow fell this month, Bill Evans watched the kids playing in it near his Proctor District shop — and one in particular caught his attention.

“There was this little guy scooping up snow and cramming it in the mouth of the salmon near my shop,” Evans said. “I went out there and I think he thought I was mad, because he started trying to get the snow out of the salmon.

“I told him, ‘No, no leave it, I want to take a picture.’”

And Evans did, using his smartphone. He recorded the boy, the Pacific Northwest Shop, and that large, glass-encrusted fiberglass salmon sculpture.

“People still love getting a photo taken with that salmon,” Evans said, shaking his head. “We had a bride and groom there one day.”

Just after the turn of the century, Evans was a Tacoma City Council member and bought a handful of those fish. He sold them throughout the community — steel, gray salmon that could be decorated in any fashion and displayed.

“In those days, Toronto had moose, Chicago had cows,” he said. “The salmon was perfect for the Northwest.”

The salmon were snapped up so fast Evans no longer remembers how many there were, or where each of them went. Still, at a length of 8 feet and weighing in at about 150 pounds, the fish were hard to miss.

Where are they now?

The glass-encrusted salmon once mounted near the Proctor District clock is now alongside Evans’ shop at 2702 N. Proctor St.

A second fish, nicknamed “Sparky,” can be found in front of the Proctor District fire station, painted with Dalmatian spots and looking rather rakish wearing a fire helmet.

There’s another salmon, dazzling as if it were made of diamonds, near the Pantages Theater.

A fourth, dubbed Canned Salmon, has been moved around a bit but now is a fixture at the Pierce Transit Park on Broadway in Tacoma.

For years, the Storybook Salmon hung out in front of the Swan Creek library. One side of the statue had paintings of salmon swimming in the sea; on the other were salmon in freshwater. The library closed, and the Storybook Salmon was vandalized.

With a budget too tight to repair an aging fiberglass figure, the Tacoma Public Library now has it in storage.

A Peace Salmon downtown was decommissioned when it was deemed beyond repair.

And then there’s the tale of two salmon purchased by the Old Town Tacoma Business Association.

One of those star-crossed fish, placed in Puget Park, was the Soul Salmon and was blessed by representatives of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians at a small ceremony.

In 2005, during its first summer in the park, the Soul Salmon was stolen. A week later, police got a tip and found it in the home of a man who said he’d gotten it in trade for bicycle parts.

Once recovered, the Soul Salmon was more securely fastened. It remains on display today.

Not so fortunate was Old Town Salmon.

Artists painted this one sea-blue, adorned it with photographs of Old Town and painted over them to look like scales. It was mounted in tiny Gateway Park. On Aug. 11, 2006, it disappeared.

Volunteers searched the berry-covered slope behind the park. Police got involved. The business association put up a reward. Shops put up wanted posters with a photo of the salmon.

A week or so after the disappearance, someone posted a message on the door of Tully’s Coffee. It had a photo of the salmon with a young man standing alongside, his face covered. A note below the photo read, “We Have The Fish.”

That was the last anyone ever saw or heard about the Old Town Salmon.

“We obviously didn’t have it secured well enough,” said Kathy Manke, who owns The Spar restaurant. “It was attractive, historic. I’d love to have it back in the park.”

Community liaison officer Daren Skaanes would like to help.

The statute of limitations on prosecuting any theft has run out, he said, and he believes some people know where the salmon is. Maybe someone has it in his garage, on the wall of a man-cave, and doesn’t know its history.

At this point, Skaanes said, his mission is one of recovery, not solving a crime.

Somewhere out there is an old salmon Old Town wants to come home. If you know where the fish is, call Skaanes at 253-594-7961.

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638
larry.larue@thenewstribune.com

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