Volunteers create 1,000 cranes for Point Defiance Pagoda grand re-opening

Metro Parks Tacoma will host a grand re-opening ceremony for the Point Defiance Pagoda on Sat., Jan. 12 between 2...

UPDATE: Metro Parks Tacoma will host a grand re-opening ceremony on Sat., Jan. 12 between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. at Point Defiance Park, located at 5400 N. Pearl Street, in Tacoma. The event will include self-guided walking tours and the following line-up of discussions: 2:30 p.m. — A history of the nearly century-old pagoda; 3 p.m. — Restoring the pagoda after the arson; and 3:30 p.m. — Future plans for the Japanese Garden restoration. All events are free. Visitors are encouraged to park in the main picnic lot (cross the footbridge to access the pagoda from the lower Japanese Garden). Alternate parking is available in lot B. More information is available online at MetroParksTacoma.org/Pagoda.

Members of the Asia Pacific Cultural Center are teaming up with Metro Arts and Tacoma Public Schools to create a 1,000 crane blessing for the grand re-opening of the Point Defiance Pagoda in January.

The pagoda was heavily damaged last year after a 15-year-old boy set fire to the building, causing approximately $2.5 million in damages. According to Pierce County prosecutors, the teen was implicated in a series of fires set at Point Defiance over a period of days. He pled guilty to Arson in the First Degree, Attempted Arson in the First Degree, Arson in the Second Degree, and Reckless Burning in the First Degree, as well as additional felony counts related to an earlier Pagoda break-in and damage to neighborhood vehicles. The teen was sentenced to the maximum range — 142 to 189 weeks – in a jail for juveniles.

According to Lua Pritchard, the Asia Pacific Cultural Center Executive Director, the cranes carry a special meaning for this historic building. “The crane is a symbol of long life,” she said. “A thousand paper cranes is something you do when you want someone’s wish to come true—like at a wedding.” The crane project also has a special meaning for Pritchard and her family. On the morning of April 15, 2011, the day her niece was to be married, she watched her television in disbelief as flames and smoke billowed from nearly 100-year-old venue where the couple was set to exchange their vows. The fire set by the teen arsonist had severely damaged the building, so Metro Parks worked feverishly to help the couple relocate the wedding ceremony to the Point Defiance Zoo. “It’s funny Metro Parks is inviting us to open the Pagoda. I don’t think they realized it was my niece,” said Pritchard.

To help prepare the blessing, Asia Pacific Cultural Center origami experts, dressed in traditional kimono attire, will host workshops to teach students at Stafford Elementary School the history of the blessing and the ancient art of folding the tiny paper cranes. A select group of students, from a cross section of all grades, will participate in the workshops on Dec. 12 and 13 from 2:30 p.m. to 3:25 p.m. The Stafford students all belong to the school’s English Language Learning program, run by teacher Lisa Almonte. She believes her school was a natural choice for the project because of its strong arts background. The school was awarded Washington State’s Innovative School Award in 2011.

Following the workshops, the new origami masters will share their craft with classmates. Stafford will supply 365 cranes — one for every student — for the Pagoda’s grand re-opening on Jan. 12. The event, which will be held between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. at Point Defiance Park, located at 5400 N. Pearl Street, in Tacoma, will include self-guided walking tours and the following line-up of discussions: 2:30 p.m. — A history of the nearly century-old pagoda; 3 p.m. — Restoring the pagoda after the arson — and 3:30 p.m.; and future plans for the Japanese Garden restoration. All events are free. Visitors are encouraged to park in the main picnic lot (cross the footbridge to access the pagoda from the lower Japanese Garden). Alternate parking is available in lot B. More information is available online at MetroParksTacoma.org/Pagoda.

With the help of other participants, the goal is to create 1,000 origami cranes for a reopening blessing for the building. Several community programs have pitched in on the project, said Mary Tuttle, Senior Arts Coordinator for Metro Arts who is heading the effort. Metro Parks’ SPARX program has already made 400 cranes, and Baker Middle School’s Late Night program has supplied some as well.

Almonte also remembers the Pagoda arson that same year. She was particularly impacted by the fact that the arsonist was still just a teenager. “As a teacher, I was particularly saddened by that,” she said.

By letting students help prepare the new grand opening, she hopes they will take pride in their school and feel a greater connection with the community. She plans to bring newspaper clippings of the ceremony to class. Her students come from 12 different language backgrounds, and she admits it sometimes makes it extra challenging to learn and interact at school. With art project like these, however, those barriers fade away. “You don’t need a common language to do art,” Almonte said.

A 12-mile drive away from Point Defiance, Stafford Elementary School might seem like an inconvenient location to involve students in the project. But Tuttle said Metro Parks in part chose the school precisely because it was located so far away, in order to reach out to a broader community. Like Almonte, she hopes the students will feel a connection to the community by contributing to a building with so much history. “These are the people who are going to live, work and play in our city,” she said.

Only 900 of the thousand cranes will be prepared in advance of the grand opening. Attendants will get the chance to craft the remaining 100 at the ceremony itself, with help from the Asia Pacific Cultural Center, Tuttle said. Participants will be able to sign up for this as well as other activities such as a formal Japanese tea ceremony which also be hosted by the Asia Pacific Cultural Center.

The grand re-opening will also feature a mixed media arts exhibit based on Point Defiance Park’s rich history. Using a set of black-and-white historical photographs as a guide, a group of intermediate art studio seniors, who range in age from 65 to 80, have recreated the photos as full color artistic renderings. The photos, taken at various points along Point Defiance, will be on display alongside accompanying artworks at the grand opening.

“Mastering the art of origami is a difficult task,” said Metro Parks Commissioner Tim Reid, who serves as the Board liaison to the Metro Parks Culture and Heritage Advisory Council. “It’s admirable that so many children throughout Tacoma are committed to doing this for the Blessing. And, the original works created by our STAR Center Studio Artists are a testament to the talent of our active older adult population. I’m very proud of Tacoma’s citizens for dedicating their time to contribute toward creating a special celebration for this great Tacoma landmark.”

Tacoma's Point Defiance Pagoda suffered $2.5 million in damages after a teenager set fire to the building in April 2011. (PHOTOS COURTESY TACOMA FIRE DEPARTMENT)
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