Gateway: News

Totem pole on Pioneer will find new home in city

The totem pole on Wesley Ulsh’s property was first erected in 1979. Ulsh died Dec. 31, 2014, and the pole was donated to the city.
The totem pole on Wesley Ulsh’s property was first erected in 1979. Ulsh died Dec. 31, 2014, and the pole was donated to the city. Courtesy

A well-known totem pole that greeted drivers along Pioneer Way has been taken down, but not for long.

The pole, which was originally put up by Wesley Ulsh, was donated to the city for refurbishment and eventual relocation. Ulsh died Dec. 31, 2014.

The pole made headlines when it was first erected in July 1979.

“Wesley Ulsh now has one of the fanciest yards in all of Gig Harbor,” wrote The News Tribune at the time.

The pole, which was easily spotted while driving toward the water on Pioneer Way, was 28 feet tall and carved out of Western red cedar. It was carved by Dave Davies and blessed by the Puyallup Tribe.

The hope is to place it in a park for public viewing, Public Works Director Jeff Langhelm said. A long time back, Ulsh had drawn plans for a park at the totem pole, his wife, Margot, said.

Ulsh knew that he wanted to bring the totem pole to Gig Harbor, and the process took about four years.

“Years ago, he had a vision,” Margot said recently.

The Peninsula Gateway, in 1995, profiled Ulsh and his vision. In the piece, Ulsh recounted the foggy morning in 1974 when he looked out his window that overlooked the harbor.

“I saw that totem pole just like you see it now,” he said in the story. “And then it was gone. I tried to kick it out of my head and I could never forget it ... It was like a vision. I guess you’d have to call it a vision.”

Once completed, the pole stood on Pioneer Way for more than three decades.

His son, Vic Ulsh, was the one who contacted the city about turning over the totem pole, City Administrator Ron Williams said. It was accepted by the city’s parks department and the arts commission. It will potentially be placed in Austin Estuary Park on the downtown waterfront, Williams said.

It’s a change from the late-1970s when the city first encountered the totem pole. As chronicled in the Gateway, Ulsh recalled being threatened with both fines and jail time for the pole. He was criticized for “erecting an illegal billboard” among other things. Those threats were verbal, he said, nothing was ever in writing.

As the years went by, Ulsh did not dub himself the owner of the pole. Rather, he called himself “caretaker.”

On July 28 it will be 36 years since workmen came to hoist the pole into place. Once moved to a new city location it may stand for many more years.

Karen Miller: 253-358-4155