The original Seward Park torii, seen here in 1935, was a gift of friendship from the Seattle Japanese Chamber of Commerce in 1934. • Courtesy Photo
The original Seward Park torii, seen here in 1935, was a gift of friendship from the Seattle Japanese Chamber of Commerce in 1934. • Courtesy Photo

A “sake and sushi” fundraising event will be held on Saturday, April 9 at the Seward Park Arboretum Center to support construction of a Japanese torii gate near the entrance to the Park.

The gate hearkens back to a similar 26-foot vermillion torii gate which was removed in the mid-1980s, falling victim to the deterioration of age after 50 years.

In 2011, neighborhood activists, some of whom remembered the original gate from their childhood, decided to resurrect the torii gate to mark the centennial of Seward Park and celebrate the ethnic and cultural diversity of the South Seattle neighborhood in which the nature park resides.

The original gate, designed by Allen K. Arai, was constructed for the 1934 Potlatch Festival, the forerunner to Seafair, and was donated to the City by the Seattle Japanese Chamber of Commerce as a symbol of friendship. After celebration of the downtown Potlatch that year, the gate was moved to the entrance of Seward Park, where it served as one of the iconic visual markers at the park, beckoning urban visitors into its peaceful surroundings, which included Japanese flowering cherry trees, a huge stone lantern from Yokohama, and a Japanese style garden.

Organizers of the Seward Park Torii Gate Project say they have raised more than 80 percent of the funds they need to build the gate and anticipate starting construction this fall. These funds include a 2012 Department of Neighborhoods Matching Fund grant.

Concept art for the new torii. • Image courtesy of Friends of Seward Park
Concept art for the new torii. • Image courtesy of Friends of Seward Park

The new gate, while mirroring its predecessor, will be constructed of stone columns and cedar cross-pieces, offering a more contemporary, local flavor. It will be designed by Pacific Northwest landscape architects from Murase Associates working with Takumi Company. The original gate was a half-size replica of the famous “floating torii” in Miyajima, Japan, an element of a Shinto shrine.

Meanwhile, retired Seattle architect Gerald Arai, the son of the original gate’s designer, is constructing two benches out of granite slabs to place near the new torii gate. The benches will honor his late father and long-time Japanese American community activist Ike Ikeda, who died last December at the age of 91. Arai has asked two Seattle Japanese American poets, Larry Matsuda and Suma Yagi, to compose poems to be etched into the benches.

The April 9 fundraising party at Seward Park will start with a tour of the torii site and cherry blossoms at 2:00 p.m., followed by an open house with sake and sushi. For information, call 206-722-8160 or contact [email protected]

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