Tacoma celebrates century-old Point Defiance Pagoda

Metro Parks Tacoma hosted a centennial celebration this weekend for the Pagoda in Point Defiance Park.

The Pagoda’s history dates back to 1913, when the Board of Park Commissioners voted to construct a stately, Japanese-inspired streetcar station in Point Defiance Park. The station opened on June 14, 1914, to much fanfare. As streetcars were displaced over the years, however, the building transitioned to a bus station in 1938.

It was officially renamed the “Pagoda” in 1960, and was restored by Metro Parks Tacoma in 1988.

In April 2011, an arsonist set fire to the building. However, it re-opened to the public following a 21-month restoration project that respected its historic integrity.

Last year, the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation presented Metro Parks Tacoma with a Special Achievement award for the restoration work. The Pagoda was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Pagoda is also a gathering place for garden shows, weddings, and other special events. More than three-million people visit the Pagoda annually, according to Metro Parks Tacoma officials.

“The Pagoda has had multiple roles throughout the history and development of Point Defiance Park,” said Metro Parks Tacoma Board President Tim Reid. “We’re excited to welcome the fourth-generation to celebrate all that this treasured Tacoma icon means to our community.”

The Pagoda Centennial Celebration was held on Sun., May 18, between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m., in Point Defiance Park, located at 5400 N. Pearl St.

The event included free tours aboard two Pierce Transit trolleys reminiscent of the early 1900s streetcars that historically served the park—a cultural history tour led by Metro Parks Tacoma Historic and Cultural Resource Manager Melissa McGinnis and retired Fort Nisqually Curator Bill Rhind, who highlighted the rich and fascinating history of Point Defiance Park from its inception in 1888 to today; and a natural history tour led by Urban Forester Kathy Sutalo, who noted the allure of Point Defiance Park’s rare old-growth forest and scenic shoreline. Visitors were also invited to explore the building, enjoy live music and refreshments, create handmade event souvenirs, and learn about the history of the Pagoda and future plans for the Japanese Gardens which surround it.

During the weeks leading up to the celebration, Metro Parks Tacoma requested photos of the Pagoda to create a community collection of memories. Locals were encouraged to submit photos reflecting their personal memories of the Pagoda, from any year in the Pagoda’s history. Scanned photos from the past were welcomed, as well as current photos. Top photos are featured on Metro Parks Tacoma’s Web site and social media pages. Photos were also used in a slideshow at the Centennial Celebration.

More information is available online at metroparkstacoma.org/pagoda100.

To read the Tacoma Daily Index’s complete and comprehensive coverage of the historic Pagoda in Point Defiance Park, click on the following links: