Year In Review: Point Defiance Park pagoda arson

Tacoma fire fighters from 12 different companies responded to a fire at 4:25 a.m. on April 15 in the Pagoda Building at Point Defiance Park.

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.

In October, a 16-year-old boy from Tacoma was sentenced to 142 to 189 weeks in the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration, the maximum range, for the arson. The damages and repair costs to the historic structure totaled approximately $2.5 million. The teen, who was 15 years old at the time of the incidents, 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, according to the Pierce County prosecutor.

The suspect was arrested on April 20 when a Ruston police officer contacted a juvenile male riding a bike near Point Defiance Park at 1 a.m., according to Pierce County prosecutors. The juvenile, later identified as the perpetrator, was wearing gardening gloves and carrying a backpack that contained a one gallon plastic can full of gasoline. A pat down of the juvenile revealed a cell phone and a box of wooden matches. Tacoma Police obtained a search warrant for the cell phone. Detectives found hundreds of text messages on the phone, many of which referred to the fires at Point Defiance, according to Pierce County prosecutors. A message sent from the phone on April 6 after midnight stated, “Hey . . . I broke into a building.”