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Published in The Seattle Times online on May 5, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on May 8, 2022
Seward Park’s torii was a welcome gateway, especially for a child
By Clay Eals
Unaware of her parents’ painful memories of World War II incarceration at Camp Tule Lake in northern California, preschooler Diane Taniguchi found that weekends in the early 1950s promised a family frolic.
“We used to take joy rides on Sunday afternoon after church,” Diane said in a 2015 video, citing drives from their home in the Publix Hotel in what is now called the Chinatown-International District to a South Seattle peninsular paradise — Seward Park.
“Dad called it ‘Suwado Pock’ because he couldn’t say r’s, and his pronunciation was still very Japanese right after the war. But those were great times. It was carefree. I was 4 or 5 years old. Not a worry in the world.”
Welcoming the Taniguchis and myriad other park visitors was a cultural symbol that Diane “really loved” — an imposing, reddish span modeled on entrance structures at Shinto shrines in Japan, called a torii. Pronounced “torr-ee,” the word means “bird perch,” but such structures have become known more broadly as gateways to extraordinary spaces.
The wooden Seward Park torii had a 50-year life, starting on University Street downtown at the 1934 International Potlatch and bearing a pro-trade sign: “Seattle — America’s Gateway to the Orient.”
The following spring, the torii (sans sign) found a verdant site at Seward Park’s entry isthmus, joining other Japanese elements, including cherry trees and an 8-ton stone lantern. It oversaw festivals and countless informal meadow gatherings through mid-1984, when Seattle Parks removed it due to decades of decay.
In 2011, the park’s centennial organizers vowed to build a new version. Fueled by $360,000 in grants and donations, a 20-foot-tall basalt-and-cedar replacement stands today in a plaza 20 feet north of the original’s tree-confined concrete foundations. At an April 2 ceremony, a crowd of 200 enjoyed musicians, dancers and speakers exulting beneath the edifice.
Officiants included Don Taniguchi, 76, honoring his younger sister, Diane, a preservationist who helped raise money for the new torii but died of cancer in 2016. Don’s thoughts also drifted to their dad, originally from Hawaii, and mom, of Tacoma, who both stayed silent about their camp challenges and the complexity of their new life while working “all the time” managing the Publix.
“They didn’t talk about the hardships,” Don says. “I guess it hurt them too much.”
From youthful eyes, he says, Seward Park and its torii bespoke “family time,” a cheerful refuge. “You felt a little prejudice, like somebody getting in line ahead of you, but you didn’t really understand why,” he says. “You didn’t think about those things. You just played. … You cherish those days now.”
Special thanks to Paul Talbert of Friends of Seward Park and Karen O’Brien of the Rainier Valley Historical Society, as well as automotive expert Bob Carney and former Seattle Parks staffer Bob Baines for their help with this installment. For more info, visit their Seward Park torii page.
To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.
Below are 5 videos, 9 additional photos and 4 historical clippings from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that were helpful in the preparation of this column.