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Point Defiance Park Pagoda History

Inspired by Japanese architecture when it was built in 1914, the Pagoda is the focal point of Point Defiance Park's Japanese Garden. It was originally a waiting room for streetcars. Now this magnificent structure functions as a rental facility for weddings and other private parties as well as a venue for garden shows, lectures and concerts. Gardens surrounding the Pagoda feature pools, a waterfall, a picturesque footbridge, cherry trees, azaleas, and rhododendrons.

The Pagoda was built in an eclectic oriental temple style undoubtedly influenced by the recommended Japanese architecture of the Hare & Hare Plan of 1911. The official grand opening date was June 14, 1914. Initially referred to as "the Car Station", the Pagoda served as a waiting room for the streetcars, with restrooms and first aid facilities on the lower level.  Architect Luther Twichell designed the new streetcar station in the Japanese "Pagoda" style, which was considered complimentary to the adjoining gardens.

Newspaper articles, prior to the Pagoda's completion, indicated the modern and luxurious amenities it would have. The women's restroom would have easy chairs, couches, and in the summer season, an attendant to hand out towels and keep the facility clean. Men visiting the Pagoda would find a separate smoking room and marble lavatories. The waiting room itself was to be roomy with tile floors and walls, comfortable chairs and a fireplace to keep warm in the cooler weather.

Early photographs of the Pagoda suggest it was built as planned.  Later used as a bus station, and then as a locale for garden clubs and floral displays, the Pagoda was meticulously restored in 1988 to look as it did originally, although the original waiting room furniture is long gone and the restroom facilities have been modernized. It was on May 9, 1960 that the Park Board voted to rename the Point Defiance Bus Station - …”henceforth to be officially known as the “Pagoda”.”

The Pagoda was damaged by an early morning fire on April 15, 2011. When the fire was finally extinguished and the building assessed, the Pagoda had sustained extensive damage to the roof tiles, exterior gables, wood beam interior and most of the furniture and fixtures. The community made clear that they valued the Pagoda as a community asset and wanted to see the building restored as quickly as possible. Metro Parks immediately sprang into action, hiring contractors to begin cleaning up the wreckage and planning the process to renovate the building.

After months of hard work by contractors, the Pagoda renovation is nearly complete. Great care was taken to salvage as much of the historic materials as possible. About two-thirds of the roof tiles, one of the Pagoda's most distinctive features, were removed, cleaned and placed back on the remodeled roof. Molds were made from the old tiles to make the replacement tiles look as authentic as possible.

The upper level of the Pagoda will remain an open, inviting space to accommodate the same types of events that the public has enjoyed for more than 50 years. Upgrades include improved ADA accessiblity, better heating, a renovated restroom and kitchen improvements that include commercial-grade equipment and a new caterer-friendly design.

The lower level, which previously allowed very liimited public access, has new open meeting space, smaller multipurpose break-out rooms, a support kitchen, storage rooms and a renovated restroom along with ADA upgrades.

With the renovations, the Pagoda will return to its iconic status in the community and the added amenities and accessibility will make it a much more suitable and flexible venue for weddings, memorials, community meetings and school groups. A community grand re-opening celebration was held January 2013. 

Japanese Garden
There may have been Japanese-inspired gardens in the area of the Pagoda even before it was built in 1914. Certainly after its construction, Point Defiance gardeners made more of an effort to design plantings in harmony with its Japanese style architecture. 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 ambiance. 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.

Through a special partnership with Tacoma's Sister City, Kitakyushu, this garden will receive an updated design plan reflective of Japanese landscaping traditions and steeped in cultural heritage. The planning and fundraising for this project began in 2012. It will be at least two years before construction begins. 

The Japanese Gardens are a work in progress that continue to reflect the rich cultural heritage of Tacoma.