The Tacoma Chinese Garden and Reconciliation Park is a joint project of the City of Tacoma and the Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation.
Park address: 1741 N. Schuster Parkway, Tacoma, WA 98403
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Initiation of the Park Project
Dr. David Murdock, in his submittal of the Citizen Suggestion Award Program application to the City of Tacoma on August 22, 1991, proposed that “since the eviction [of the Chinese populace] was from the Old Town waterfront, it would be appropriate to set aside an area of reconciliation (small park with a Chinese motif) and a monument acknowledging the incident, noting Tacoma’s regret and desire to move ahead in unity and respect.” On November 30, 1993, the Tacoma City Council passed Resolution No. 32415 to reconcile the historic tragedy of the Chinese expulsion in 1885, set aside the former National Guard site on Ruston Way for the “Chinese Commemorative Park and International Pavilion”, and authorize the expenditure of $25,000 for preliminary site plans, preliminary cost estimate and project programming for the project.
Project Location and Site Description
The park is located at 1741 N. Schuster Parkway, Tacoma, WA 98403. It lies at the eastern end of the Ruston Way Shoreline area, confined to the north by Commencement Bay, to the south by railroad tracks, to the west by the Jack Hyde Park, and to the east by the Tahoma Salt Marsh, which is a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) project.
The 3.9-acre park site is part of the 7-acre site that was created in the late 1800’s for industrial purposes by filling with concrete debris, sawdust, dirt and other materials. It has approximately 1,100 lineal feet of shoreline on the Bay. A succession of various industries occupied this site leaving behind environmental contamination. In 1996-1997, the site was cleaned up and transferred to the City of Tacoma by the National Guard for public purposes.
The site is within a hundred feet of the site of a former lumber mill where many Chinese workers were employed in 1885 and within ½ mile of a former Chinese settlement called Little Canton. In 1885 the shoreline was located approximately where the existing railroad tracks run today and there was a raised roadway/wharf that was used by people to travel along the waterfront. Each day over 100 Chinese workers walked along the waterfront to their jobs. Yet their lives changed suddenly in the cold Northwest morning of November 3, 1885 as they were forced out of Tacoma and their homes burned down.
Today this beautiful waterfront property commands sweeping views and few indicators of the busy, smoke crusted, muddy, log and clipper ship dotted waterfront of 1885 and nothing remains of the settlement many Chinese workers called home, nothing that hints of the Chinese contribution or suffering. This will change with the completion of the park.
The design of the Chinese Reconciliation Park is a mixture of traditional Chinese garden and beautiful natural waterfront setting. The park design creates a variety of spaces carefully defined by walls, mounds, rockwork, landforms, interpretive displays, native and exotic plants found in Chinese gardens, pavilions and classrooms of a Chinese architectural style, and a fresh water pond that is approximately 6,000 square feet.
Since the site is long and narrow, visitors will enter from the far west end, so that the experience of the park unfolds as people move through the park from west to east, creating the illusion of a larger site. The story of the Sojourners’ journey to America, work and lifestyle, tragic expulsion, and opportunities for reconciliation are all explored within the context of the Chinese garden.
There are three features that are very unique to the site: the grotto, the trails, and the shoreline. The grotto is exquisitely designed to provide a functional and beautiful intertidal area, and with a Chinese bridge crossing over, will provide an excellent location for the public to view sea life including possible endangered species at certain times of the year. The waterfront trails are crushed rock, 10 to 20 feet in width, and continue the Ruston Way trails that presently end at Jack Hyde Park and provide pedestrian access to the site. The shoreline improvements include cleanup, protection and restoration, resulting in a seawall constructed on the westerly portion and a gently sloping cobble beach on the easterly portion.
The park’s layout follows the design principles of the scholar’s gardens, such as the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon, rather than the imperial style gardens, such as the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden in Vancouver, British Columbia. It will be much more subdued in color as compared to the red and gold found in the imperial gardens.
The park design as illustrated in the current Master Site Plan was done in late 1990s by a team of landscape architects and planners led by the J. A. Brennan Associates.
Construction of the Chinese Reconciliation Park broke ground in August 2005 and has been carried out in multiple phases, in accordance with the Master Site Plan, as described below.
- Phase I (completed in 2010) – Waterfront trails, beach protection, intertidal grotto, the String of Pearls bridge, interpretive signs, the Dragon Mound, the Path through the Expulsion, the Sojourner’s Room, landscaping, and Chinese artifacts.
- Phase II (completed in 2012) – Beach restoration and stabilization, trails and pathways, interpretive signs, furnishings, Chinese garden landscaping, and the Fuzhou Ting (pavilion).
- Phase III (a $400,000 grant project funded by the State’s 2013-2015 Heritage Capital Projects Fund; design in progress; and construction slated for completion in June 2015) – Perimeter fencing, a parking lot, lightings, interpretive and wayfinding signage, and landscaping and irrigation system improvements.
- Phase IV (unfunded) – Multicultural Pavilion, classrooms, entrance gate, restrooms, courtyard, Reconciliation Hall, Gold Mountain Pavilion, Chinese garden walls, bay-viewing terrace and pond, Tai-Hu stones, waterfall, Zig-zag Bridge, and additional Chinese garden features..
Project Costs and Funding
Currently, the total cost for the Chinese Reconciliation Park is estimated at $22 million. Costs for Phases I, II, III and IV are estimated at $8.1 million, $1.0 million, $0.6 million and $12.0 million, respectively. To date, the project has received approximately $2.8 million in various State grants, $2.6 million City of Tacoma allocations, and $4.3 million donations and contributions. With a total revenue of approximately $10 million, the current funding gap is $12 million.
It should be noted that, in addition to funding support from various public and private entities, hundreds of volunteer hours, primarily organized by the Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation, have been donated to the project, in such activities as design, site cleanup, tree planting and landscaping enhancement, fundraising, publicity, and education.
1st Project Manager (from 1992 to 2009):
Bart Alford (retired)
Community and Economic Development Department
City of Tacoma
Current Project Manager (2009 – present):
Planning and Development Services Department
City of Tacoma
747 Market Street, Room 345, Tacoma, WA 98402
Construction Manager (Phase III, 2013 – present):
Public Works Department – Engineering Division
City of Tacoma
747 Market Street, Room 544, Tacoma, WA 98402