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Point Defiance Pagoda Reopening Draws Near

December 10, 2012

Tacoma Children Rally to Prepare a Special Cultural Blessing for the Community’s Grand Celebration, as the Point Defiance Pagoda Reopening Draws Near


Tacoma, WA - Asia Pacific Cultural Center (APCC) members are teaming up with Metro Arts and Tacoma Public Schools to create a 1,000 crane blessing for the Grand Reopening of the Point Defiance Pagoda in January.

Lua Pritchard, APCC’s Executive Director, said the Japanese tradition carries 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.”

pagoda fireIt also has a special meaning for Lua and her family. On the morning of April 15, 2011, the day her niece was to be married, she watched her TV 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 a 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,” Pritchard said.

To help prepare the blessing origami experts from the Asia Pacific Cultural Center (APCC), dressed in traditional kimono attire, will host workshops to teach the Stafford students 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 December 12 and 13 from 2:30-3:25. 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 reopening on Jan. 12.

With the help of other participants, the goal is to create 1000 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 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 APCC, 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 APCC.

The Grand Reopening 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 65-80, 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. 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,” said Metro Parks Commissioner Tim Reid, who serves as the Board liaison to the Metro Parks Culture and Heritage Advisory Council.

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