Tacoma's pagoda reopens for first time since 2011 arson

TACOMA, Wash. - Saturday marked a new beginning for one of Tacoma's most famous landmarks - that was nearly destroyed by arson in 2011.

The Point Defiance Park Pagoda reopened for the first time since the fire, and people were trying to get inside before the doors were even open to see the renovation and repairs.

Nearly everyone who walked through the doors Saturday has a special memory at the pagoda - from proposals and memorial services to saying, "I do."

"It's just a very nice setting, beautiful setting," says Zaneta McKee, who was married at the pagoda. "It was our first and only choice of a place to get married, and we reserved it a year ahead of time, and it was a perfect day."

The building began as a streetcar station almost 100 years ago, but that history was nearly destroyed after an arson in April 2011.

"That night - to see this going up in flames - was a real loss," says Battalion Chief Jim . "We were like, 'Oh my God, that can't be happening.'"

The fire spread between three levels. Firefighters saved as much history as they could - breaking only a door to get inside and part of the roof.

"I remember when we had to remove the tiles, it's like the fire burning under tiles ... tough decision because Metro Parks was right beside us going, 'Don't break the tiles,'" Zuluaga says. "We fought hard to save these hinges."

Melissa McGinnis, a historian for Metro Parks, praises the firefighters for also preserving the windows.

"It's just amazing - the firefighters were able to get in here, put out the fire, and they didn't break a single window," she says.

The most challenging part of repairs was bringing the building up to code. Workers had to install sprinklers, provide accomodations required by the Americans with Disabilities Act and make structural improvements. The total cost $7 million, an amount that's priceless to those who started their lives here.

"It's a landmark here in Tacoma, and it's just beautiful - just the surroundings and the building," says Z. McKee.

There's already a wedding scheduled for next Sunday. It will be the first big event since the reopening.

Staffers have been booking events here throughout the day. There are still openings for summer weddings - but very few, so make sure you call soon if you want to make a reservation.