The first of two lion statues was reinstalled today after months of repairs at iconic Wright Park, the latest and most visible sign of the $4 million project to return prominence to the area that used to be a center of the city’s social life.
"This is a big step," said Kristi Evans, a project manager with Metro Parks. "It’s more than just a couple of statues."
Crews will reinstall four statues – two lions and two maidens – this week and next. The statues, sculpted from poured sandstone slurry, needed repairs to patch major cracks.
They remained in a heated storage container in the park; the cracks were filled in, and each statue will receive one or two coats of fresh paint. Lights will be installed on the statues’ bases.
The statues have long resonated with Tacoma residents and visitors, said Melissa McGinnis, a historian with Metro Parks.
"If you look at historic photographs throughout the years," she said, "everybody took their pictures at Wright Park in front of the statues."
Clinton P. Terry, a prominent businessman nicknamed "The Duke of Tacoma," collected art during a European vacation and donated six statues to the city in the 1890s: two lions, two maidens, a fisherman’s daughter and a winged Mercury. The latter has since been lost, McGinnis said, and the fisherman’s daughter is still being repaired.
One aim of the renovations is to return Wright Park to its turn-of-the-century prominence. When it opened in 1890 after four years of development, Yakima Avenue ran through its middle and was its social vein. Families took leisurely carriage rides down the promenade past the lush parkland.
"It was the place to be and be seen," McGinnis said.
The automobile replaced carriages, and its increased speed conflicted with pedestrians enjoying relaxed strolls. The park district closed Yakima Avenue to traffic on the weekends in the late 1920s and a few years later, it closed the street through Wright Park all week.
The renovations will restore the former road as the central pedestrian focus of the park, McGinnis said.
"The idea is to bring back that grand thoroughfare," she said.
During the first phase of the renovations, contractors also upgraded the Sixth Avenue and Division Street entries, the bowling green and the maintenance building, extended the promenade, planted nearly 100 trees, installed a new electrical system and overhauled the pond.
The renovations began in August, and Phase I should be completed by February. A grand reopening is scheduled for April.
The second phase will involve opening a playground and water "sprayground" for children. Metro Parks is seeking about $2 million for the second phase and hopes to obtain it through grants and individual donations. Starbucks has already given Metro Parks a $100,000 grant.
"When you care about your family and your neighbors, you begin to care more about your community, city, county and state," said Drew Ebersole, the newly hired executive director of the Metro Parks Foundation. "And it starts with something as simple as a playground or sprayground."