Repairs needed for downtown Tacoma’s historic totem pole

City engineers have raised safety concerns over the structural integrity of an historic totem pole in downtown Tacoma’s Fireman’s Park.

Earlier this month, two engineers with PCS Structural Solutions, a firm contracted by the City of Tacoma, visited the park to assess the 110-year-old totem pole. They found enough “soft wet deteriorated wood” and “significant deterioration” that the pole’s seismic stability has been compromised by at least 50 per cent.

“It is our opinion that deterioration was discovered to be much more advanced than the surface would indicate,” wrote PCS Structural Solutions engineers Jim Collins and Gary Beckner in an April 15 memo to Darius Thompson, an engineer in the city’s public works department. “Therefore it should be viewed that the deterioration presents a significant liability for the pole’s stability, and the pole should be considered unreliable or unstable and a falling hazard. We recommend that the pole be lowered to the ground or shored as a precaution.”

As a result, Tacoma’s public works director ordered the totem pole be stabilized immediately and the surrounding park area to be fenced off, according to documents prepared by City of Tacoma staff.

The Tacoma Totem Pole, which stands 82-feet-six-inches tall, was carved by Alaskan Indians on Vashon Island and installed in Tacoma in 1903. According to Metro Parks Tacoma, it stood for decades near South 10th and A Streets, but was moved to Fireman’s Park, located at South 9th and A Streets, in 1953. The pole includes carved images of an eagle, killer whale, raven, grizzly bear, and wolf. It was designated an historic landmark in 1975 and is now part of the city’s collection of public art.

The landmark nomination prepared 38 years ago notes two wealthy Tacoma businessmen, William Sheard and Chester Thorne, paid $3,000 to commission the pole after Sheard grew irritated by articles touting Seattle’s Totem Pole.

Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is scheduled to be briefed on the issue during its meeting on Weds., April 24, at 5:30 p.m. at the Tacoma Municipal Building, 747 Market Street, Room 248.