La Har

Jul. 11, 2011 at 6:55pm

Century Park at History Museum Tacoma

build it already, please!

By Sean Robinson
The News Tribune

Original run date: August 22, 2005

For a handful of Tacoma activists,  it's taking longer to remember history than make it.

 Back in 1994,  the nonprofit group Save Our Station started selling plaques for $25 apiece. More than 200 people bought them.

 Cut from the weathered green copper that once covered the dome of Union Station on Pacific Avenue,  the plaques,  etched with the donor's names,  were supposed to cluster on a downtown wall. The display,  coupled with a $20,000 sculpture paid for with grant money,  would honor the fight to rescue the crumbling station from demolition.

    The idea had a name: Century Park.

 More than a decade later,  the refurbished Union Station houses federal courtrooms and shimmering petals of Dale Chihuly glass. Nearby,  the 9-year-old Washington State History Museum echoes the station's vintage architecture.

    And Century Park? It's nowhere.

    The green plaques are sitting in an East Tacoma trophy shop,  unfinished. Some of the donors who bought them have died.

 The sculpture,  a replica of a vintage locomotive,  has been parked in East Pierce County since 1997. Its maker,  Elbe artist Dan Klennert,  likes the way it looks in his vast backyard.

    "I'm just kind of hoping everybody forgets about it, " he jokes.

 Between the museum and the station is an empty concrete plaza that leads to the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. That's where Century Park is supposed to be.

    Backers say recent developments give the project new hope,  but it remains unfinished,  chiefly because of a seemingly simple debate that's lasted for years: Which pieces belong in the park and where to put them?

 Lakewood resident Kathryn Vanwagenen,  one of the activists who collected money for the plaques,  explains the project with a sigh.

    "It's been a very long,  sometimes frustrating process, " she said.

    Vanwagenen and Linda Bowman,  who spearheaded the Save Our Station effort,  say the long wait is almost over.

 By August 2006 - the 10th anniversary of the museum - they hope Century Park will be complete. After years of negotiation with museum director David Nicandri,  the parties have settled on a tentative concept,  and hired an architect to draw plans.

 "I feel very certain at this point that this park is coming together and going to be very positive, " Bowman said. "I've been as frustrated as anyone."

    "There were a couple of false starts, " Nicandri said. "But I think we do now have a conformed vision of what we'd like to do out there."

 Public records show the debate stretches back at least eight years. On Jan. 8,  1997,  Vanwagenen asked the Tacoma Landmarks Preservation Commission for approval to install the plaques on the rear wall of the history museum cafe.

    Minutes of the meeting reveal disagreement. Vanwagenen said museum leaders approved the plan,  but a separate entry in the minutes notes Nicandri told the commission the plan wasn't acceptable.

 Museum opposition was no small obstacle. The plaza is museum property. Nicandri is the museum director,  and its unofficial guardian - in effect,  the future landlord of Century Park.

 "Our goal is that anything of an additive stripe be in conformance with the original vision as well as the continued practicability of the space, " he said. "We weren't going to allow a design that wasn't in keeping with the dignity and decorum and design of the larger property."

 Park backers and Nicandri point to another complication. The Chihuly Bridge of Glass,  conceived and constructed long after the birth of the Century Park project,  dramatically altered the landscape of the plaza.

    "The original design had to be changed totally when the pedestrian bridge concept came along, " Vanwagenen said.

    While project leaders quibbled,  Klennert built his train from discarded steel. It's a six-ton "representation" of a Minnetonka locomotive - the sort that pulled lumber from the Cascade foothills to Tacoma in the 1920s  and 1930s. Klennert finished it in 1997.

    "Took me four months, " he said.

 He's been paid $15,000 by Save Our Station - three fourths of his commission. He'll receive the last installment when the train pulls into Century Park.

    "I'm not pushing the issue, " he said.

    Neither is Mike Houser,  owner of Big John's Trophies on Pacific Avenue in East Tacoma,  and keeper of 214 copper plaques.

 Houser's father John,  aka Big John,  wrote the invoice for the plaques in 1999: $2,363.41. He since has retired,  but his son Mike expects to finish the job,  which is partially paid for. He's not itching over the money.

    "We have something really unique to celebrate here, " Mike Houser said. "I didn't get aggressive on it. This is how a small business gives back to its community. This is an honor."

    Some longtime community leaders who bought plaques will never see them installed. They died too soon.

 Wistfully,  Bowman listed a few names: Cathy Egan,  former Tacoma City councilwoman and park board member;  citizen activist Charlotte Naccarato;  and Murray Morgan,  dean of Washington state historians.

    Still,  the park's backers see cause for optimism. In May,  they settled on an overall concept that included the plaques,  Klennert's train and a "storyboard" that would depict elements of Union Station's history. More recently,  they hired architect Arthur Andersson to develop a design.

    "It is going forward, " Vanwagenen said. "And no one's going to be happier to see it wrapped up than Linda Bowman and myself."

    Nicandri also welcomes the prospect of the long-delayed park,  despite the long debates over design.

 "In some measure we wouldn't be here without the efforts of Save Our Station, " he said. "Tacoma's rebirth down in this neighborhood was the result of a singular community decision to save that building.

 "This project will memorialize that effort,  which has led to the revitalization of this city. That is one of the major messages this park will be intended to convey - the value that historic preservation has brought to this city."

comments [4]  |  posted under Dan Klennert, History Museum, public art, Tacoma, take that fence down


by ixia on 7/11/2011 @ 7:04pm
Above article ran in the Tribune August 22, 2005.
Dan Klennert has been waiting since 1997 for his train to be installed and for the final payment for his artwork. What will it take, Tacoma?

by fredo on 7/11/2011 @ 7:20pm
All they have to do is change the name from Century Park to Reconciliation Park South, name an ethnic group that feels an injustice was done, and all these worries will end.

by fredo on 7/11/2011 @ 7:31pm
I'll even provide an old teardrop trailer from fredo city to be the focal point of the new Reconciliation Park South. There will be a small installation and handling charge of $175,000 but definitely well worth it. I'll personally apply a secret lacquor which I can't reveal the contents of and put some dangly things for teenagers to try and break off. It's all good!

by thriceallamerican on 7/12/2011 @ 11:12am
Maybe rename it CenturyLink Park? Nothing like selling out to pay for stuff.

Fredo, how much for the teardrop trailer?