Seattle Now & Then: Seward Park torii, 1953-54

(Click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN1: With cherry blossoms abloom and the Seward Park torii to the north behind him, Don Taniguchi, 7 or 8 years old, stands near the park’s entry in 1953 or 1954. The torii was moved to this site in 1935. (Courtesy Taniguchi family)
NOW1: Before the April 2 ceremony to dedicate the new torii behind him, Don Taniguchi stands about 20 feet north of his childhood pose and holds a portrait of his late sister Diane, who raised funds for the project. Flanking him are the concrete foundations of the original span. The event was organized by Friends of Seward Park, Seattle Parks Foundation and Seattle Parks and Recreation. (Jean Sherrard)

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.”

THEN2: The reddish-hued Seward Park torii stands in 1962. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

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.

THEN3: In a still image taken from family home-movie footage, the torii stands in its original spot, on University Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues, for the 1934 International Golden Potlatch. The sign at top reads: “Seattle — America’s Gateway to the Orient.” Sponsored by the Seattle Japanese Chamber of Commerce, the torii’s total cost was just $172. (Kushi Collection, University of Washington Special Collections)

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.”

NOW2: Drummers from the School of Taiko kick off the April 2 ceremony. (Jean Sherrard)
NOW3: Mayor Bruce Harrell speaks at the April 2 ceremony: “Being of biracial background [Japanese American and Black], I try to find out what’s common in cultures,” he said. “That’s what this [torii] represents: oneness. … This is Seattle at its best.” (Jean Sherrard)


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.

VIDEO (23:12): Click the image to view the Friends of Seward Park documentary on the campaign to re-create the Seward Park torii. An interview of Diane Taniguchi can be seen at time code 17:31. (Friends of Seward Park)
VIDEO (1:59): Click the image to see Don Taniguchi interviewed about his sister and childhood days at Seward Park. (Clay Eals)
VIDEO (1:54): Click image to see state Rep. Sharon Tomoko Santos speak at Seward Park torii dedication ceremony. (Clay Eals)
VIDEO (7:16): Click the image to see Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell speak at the Seward Park torii dedication ceremony. (Clay Eals)
VIDEO (2:48): Click the image to see excerpts of performances at the Seward Park dedication ceremony. (Clay Eals)
Diane and Don Taniguchi in about 1953. (Courtesy Taniguchi family)
The Taniguchi family, with young siblings Don and Diane in front, stands before the old Seward Park torii in the early 1950s. (Courtesy Taniguchi family)
Girls participate in a running race in the meadow near the old Seward Park torii during the annual Rainier District Pow-Wow on July 31, 1950. (Courtesy Rainier Valley Historical Society)
Officials preside at a 50th anniversary ceremony for the old Seward Park torii in July 1983, including (from right) state Rep. John O’Brien, Seattle Mayor Charles Royer, real-estatte agent John Merrill, Seafair pageant queen and princesses. (Courtesy O’Brien family)
Three days before the April 2, 2022, ceremony to dedicate the new Seward Park torii, Paul Talbert of Friends of Seward Park displays a section of the old torii on its western concrete base. (Clay Eals)
The same section of the old torii on display at Seward Park. (Clay Eals)
Sides of a marker credit donors to the new Seward Park torii project. (Clay Eals)
A marker credits donors to the new Seward Park torii project. (Clay Eals)
Story marker for the new Seward Park torii. (Clay Eals)
Aug. 26, 1934, Seattle Times, p9.
Aug. 21, 1938, Seattle Times, p72.
April 15, 1945, Seattle Times, p31.
April 2, 1962, Seattle Times, p44.


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