Special Reports

The ‘love-god’ presides, even in that Boathouse

As much as it is about gardening and fishing and staying fit, Point Defiance is about smooching. Or spooning, as it was called in 1913.

In that year, Tacoma’s Daily Ledger reported on a wave of prudery sweeping municipal parks nationwide. Chicago and St. Louis installed electric lights along their park paths while Los Angeles hired special patrol officers to roust the romantics from the parks after dark.

"In the middle of the Point Defiance Boathouse, perfumed with the aroma of fish, Clair stopped me and pulled a small black box from his pocket - a diamond ring!"


Got engaged in 1940 at the point


Headlining its editorial “Oust Spooners in Tacoma Parks? Never!” the Ledger endorsed a park board policy to leave the lovers undisturbed in all its parks.

“Of all the parks, Point Defiance offers the best opportunities to devotees of the love-god,” the editorial writers mentioned helpfully.

Through the years, the Point has always been the spot for hormones to kick off their shoes and run barefoot in the grass.

What better place could there be to encounter one’s romantic future than, say, the old trailer by the bear pits?

In the summers of 1953 and ’54, Carolynn Howard sold hot dogs and root beer from the concession stand there when Wayne Howard, a McChord Air Force Base airman, took gallant notice of her.

“He would come and patiently wait for me until my shift ended and made sure that I safely checked in at the pavilion with the money I had taken in that day,” she said. “I would get a ride in his black ’47 Chevy Fleetline, which was just too cool.”

On June 18, they’ll celebrate their 50th anniversary.

What better place could there be for a first kiss than Fort Nisqually’s watchtower?

During World War II, Juanita Ciolek invited a nice young sailor bound for the war in the Pacific to be her guest at a church youth group picnic. It was the patriotic thing to do.

“I got my first kiss from my husband-to-be there in the lookout tower of Fort Nisqually,” she said.

After the war, she and Clarence Joseph were married and remained so until his death 50 years later.

What better place to pop the question than the fishy Point Defiance Boathouse?

D. Jean Hanson has her priorities. Given the choice between good hair at church on Sunday and good hair on a Saturday night date on the steamer Virginia V, she went with Sunday.

So one August night in 1940, she put her hair in rollers and wound a scarf around it.

Her beau was a part-time stock boy at J.C. Penney and a full-time student at the College of Puget Sound, where she was a librarian’s secretary.

“In the middle of the Point Defiance Boathouse, perfumed with the aroma of fish, Clair stopped me and pulled a small black box from his pocket – a diamond ring!” she said.

They embarked on their 58-year marriage the next year.

Where better to marry than at Point Defiance, in any weather, in any spot?

“On Jan. 19, 1992, Steve and I were married in the Pagoda in front of a beautiful fire, the rest of the room lit by soft candlelight, surrounded by family and friends,” said Kathleen Pierce. “It poured rain outside, but we were warm and toasty inside the Pagoda. … It was magical.”

And in 1991, Christine and Mark Rice were looking for a special, inexpensive wedding venue that would be fun for their two children from previous marriages.

“I discovered that the zoo and aquarium rented out space that we could afford in the shark exhibit area,” Christine said.

They taped “Kiss the Girl” from “The Little Mermaid” as a processional.

“I walked down the steps, reassured by the tropical fish, to meet my groom, with the air warm and humid,” Christine said. “The dreamy blue backlit shark arena was soothing.”

Christine’s mother wondered aloud about a wedding set among sharks.

The wedding pictures, shot against the tropical reef tableau, make it seem the Rices married on an idyllic island.

Where else but Point Defiance?

If you have personal stories or memories about the park you'd like to share, contact columnist Kathleen Merryman at kathleen.merryman@thenewstribune.com.