Fire fighters battle blaze at historic Point Defiance pagoda

Tacoma fire fighters from 12 different companies responded to a fire at 4:25 a.m. in the Pagoda Building at Point Defiance Park. According to officials, first arriving companies found heavy smoke showing from the iconic two-story building. Once it was determined the fire had spread throughout both floors of the structure, the fire was upgraded to a “two-alarm” fire at 4:45 a.m. The incident was divided into two operational zones with crews fighting the fire with hand lines and two-and-one-half-inch nch diameter hoses on both floors from opposite sides of the building. Crews also worked to extinguish the fire that was in the roof area while preserving as much of the historical structure as possible. The unique design of the roof system with heavy timber, high cathedral ceiling and heavy tile roof represented dangerous collapse conditions for the firefighters. There were no injuries to report and the cause of the fire is currently under investigation.

A focal point of Point Defiance Park’s Japanese Garden, the 97-year-old pagoda, located at 5801 Trolley Lane, is a replica of a 17th century Japanese Lodge, according to Metro Parks Tacoma. Gardens surrounding the Pagoda feature pools, a waterfall, a picturesque footbridge, cherry trees, azaleas and rhododendrons. It was originally a waiting room for streetcars, but has served for years as a rental facility for weddings and other private parties, as well as a venue for garden shows, lectures and concerts.

Built in 1914 in an eclectic oriental temple style undoubtedly influenced by the recommended Japanese architecture of the Hare & Hare Plan of 1911, and initially referred to as simply “the Car Station,” the Pagoda served as a waiting room for the streetcars, with restrooms and first aid facilities on the lower level, according to Metro Parks Tacoma. Architect Luther Twichell designed the new streetcar station in the Japanese “Pagoda” style, which was considered complimentary to the adjoining gardens. Later used as a bus station, and then as a locale for garden clubs and floral displays, the Pagoda was meticulously restored in 1988. In 1963, a two-year project under the sponsorship of the Capitol District of Garden Clubs began to give the gardens a more characteristic Japanese ambience. In the 1980s, the local Japanese community helped add a number of additional features that continued to refine the authenticity of the garden. A Shinto shrine and Torii Gate were re-located to the east side of the Pagoda in 1982. These features were originally a gift to the City of Tacoma from its “sister city,” Kitakyushu, Japan in 1961.

The pagoda at Point Defiance Park was on fire Friday morning. (PHOTOS COURTESY TACOMA FIRE)