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Originally published Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 8:55 PM

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Historic Tacoma totem pole in danger of falling

A totem pole commissioned by Tacoma civic boosters in 1903 is in danger of falling.

The News Tribune

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First of all, a totem pole lasting 110 years is fairly remarkable. In Alaska, they're... MORE


TACOMA — A 110-year-old carved cedar pole known as the Tacoma Totem Pole is rotting and in danger of falling, so officials are trying to decide how to save it.

City historic-preservation officer Reuben McKnight is researching the pole’s origins to determine which tribes might be involved in a permanent solution.

The 83-foot pole in Fireman’s Park has been braced to keep the designated historic landmark from falling down before it can be stabilized or possibly lowered, The News Tribune reports.

An inspection last month by engineering consultants, PCS Structural Solutions, found the wood is wet, soft and deteriorating. The pole could topple in an earthquake or a strong wind.

“We recommend that the pole be lowered to the ground or shored as a precaution,” the inspection report said.

The pole was commissioned in 1903 by civic boosters to be taller than a 60-foot totem pole erected in Seattle. It was a major tourist attraction for Tacoma. Over the years it has undergone several repaintings and restorations.

The pole has a wolf figure at the base and an eagle at the crown and another six animal or half-animal icons carved in between.

Natives from British Columbia or Alaska were commissioned for $3,000 to carve the pole, according to the 1975 landmark application written by State Historical Society archivist Caroline Gallacci.

Puyallup Indian carver Shaun Peterson, who has been asked to help research the pole’s origins, said the pole may be the work of British Columbia Tlingits, using Haida motifs.

“In those territories, it’s sort of understood that poles have a life span,” he said. “They’re left to return to the earth and the idea is to replace them.”

The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission will decide the pole’s fate.

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