Pagoda on Five Mile Drive

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Spirits who loved a most enjoyable public place, like to visit it or stay.

People who die while having a good time of rest
and recreation, perhaps aren’t ready to go just yet.

After witnessing a fatal accident, a grieving person acted rashly.

If a person is separated from their earthly love by tragedy,
it can lead to restlessness in the afterlife.




Point Defiance Park in the late 19th century was a popular getaway for the people of Tacoma. They would travel to the 702 acre Point Defiance Park, where they could visit the zoo (now Zoo and Aquarium), gardens, Fort Nisqually (now a hands-on living history museum), a boardwalk, have a picnic, hear a concert at an outside theater shell (gone but replaced), go swimming at a salt water pool (long gone), use the boathouse, beach, walk the nature trails, and even a stand of old-growth forest, which is preserved today.

Trolleys would run from the heart of Tacoma to Point Defiance Park. The building that was originally built on this spot was described as a “rustic shelter”, used as a Trolley Car Station, for visitors from Tacoma, wanting to enjoy the activities in the huge Point Defiance Park.

In 1914, the upscale two-story, much loved Pagoda was built here, offering an event place for the upper-classes of Tacoma, but still providing a Trolley Car Station and a small Aid Station on the first floor. When the trolley stopped running, the first floor became storage, and much later, a classroom/activity room.

Because the Pagoda sat on land that sloped away from the parking area, the visitor entered by the second floor, and took the stairs down to the first floor. The Pagoda’s long tradition of being a popular place to have a social event of any kind continued through the years, as well as a Japanese Garden. A veranda was also added that opened up the social aspect of the Pagoda.

In Sept. of 2011, imagine the horror of a mother of the bride on the morning of her daughter’s wedding when she saw on her TV, the chosen wedding venue, The Pagoda, burning because of an arson fire!! Officials quickly made room in the Point Defiance Park Zoo for this wedding, but the damage to the Pagoda was serious.

A community of volunteers showed up, offering to help clean up the mess, and do what they could to help in recovering this most cherished city landmark. “They are offering to raise money, scrub soot, replant gardens, paint, stain, do research and fine woodworking. They want their hands on the recovery.”
A list of names and abilities was taken, and used later to coordinate this big job.

The city council decided to make lemonade out of lemons, and treat this as an opportunity to bring this historical treasure up to code, renovating and restoring this almost 100-year-old building. The Tacoma City Council allocated a starting sum of 1.7 million dollars. Building improvements included a new roof, replacement of rotted wood, new heated floors, and several rooms downstairs to house educational classrooms. These multipurpose rooms would be made available for programs such as the Science and Math Institute – “a Point Defiance-based high school that’s part of Tacoma Public Schools”.

However, the Council knew full well that probably more work than expected might be required. It is always an adventure when renovating a fixer-upper opportunity. Sure enough, while preparing to seal the foundation, a contractor discovered that the 100 year old concrete, made from salt-covered gravel from the sound, was disintegrating where it had been exposed to water over the years, breaking off in his hand. Such was the case for the veranda and exterior stairs as well. All the cement used in the building would need to be reinforced as well. Uh oh!

Another problem was revealed under the plaza area, where the parking lot once stood. It was discovered that the plaza was built upon trash, old logs and stumps. Sturdier soil would have to replace this unstable material, so that it could be turned back into what it was 100 years ago, a grass and trolley yard with tracks. The Tacoma City Council didn’t blink an eye. More money was provided for this now rather huge project.

When we visited the Pagoda during the summer of 2012, the major renovation projects were in full force. The entire building was enclosed in fencing, but we could make out the lovely Pagoda roof! … It was obvious then that this old, beloved building was getting a first-rate makeover that it deserves. A grand reopening was scheduled for January 12th, 2013, as all the renovations, and improvements to code would be finished and the community ready to celebrate!!

The total cost came to nearly seven million dollars, but it was well worth it in the eyes of the people of Tacoma. Opportunities to put this building to work are promising! It will continue to be a popular spot for events and weddings, and the school district probably pays a fee for the use of the rooms downstairs. Other groups will also want to schedule their events here as well.



tacomaPeople who find a public place to be most enjoyable, memorable and fun, like to visit it or stay there after they pass away.

At The Pagoda and in surrounding areas, many people through the years have enjoyed themselves here at an event, or a day at the park. There were probably changing rooms in the bathrooms on the first floor.

A homeless man who enjoyed staying near the Pagoda, died on its lower level patio sometime in the 1990s.

People who die while in the middle of enjoying rest and recreation sometimes aren’t ready to accept their sudden demise.

Folks may have died in the process of having fun at an event, perished in trolley accidents, drowned in the ocean, or been mugged in the park.

The spirit of the wife of the husband who killed himself could be searching for him to be reunited. She was looking forward to being with him once more after visiting her parents, but instead died in the water in an accident that wasn’t supposed to happen.

There was a 14 year old girl who was pulled off her bike and killed in the park. Perhaps she is one of the spirits who visits.

People who commit suicide rashly to escape the trauma of a terrible event often don’t find peace in the afterlife, but find themselves in pain instead, reliving the trauma and/or their death.

When a man witnessed the death of his wife in a ferry accident, his grief and horror overwhelmed him, and he killed himself in a bathroom on the lower level of the Pagoda.

Every Saturday, a young couple would take the trolley to the Pagoda area, where the wife would catch the small shuttle boat across the bay to Vashon Island to see her parents, while her husband would stay at the park, enjoy the beach, etc. and wait for her return. The unspeakable accident happened, at the Vashon Ferry dock when a small shuttle boat turned over. The husband saw his wife fall into the water, and drown, while standing on the shore.

When loving members of a family (a couple, a parent or a child) are separated by tragedy, they sometimes are separated on the other side, and look for each other in their familiar places in this world, or worry about the well-being of the loved one they left behind.



The entity of the Suicidal Husband

Witnesses have heard the sound of hard-soled shoes clomping down the eastern outside stairs to the lower level. The husband is thought to be the source of these footfalls.

Loud, sighing sounds are also attributed to him.

The entity of the wife that drowned

A woman, dressed in wet white clothes, is seen both on the lower level and at the entry way on the second level.

Perhaps she lets the living know how she died, by adding the sounds of her drenched self hitting the water, when the boat overturned.

Some of the footsteps are attributed to her as well, as she looks for her beloved.

The entity of an older, homeless man

short beard, black sailor’s cap and heavy boots.

His apparition is seen sitting on the ground on the patio area, near where he died alone. When approached, he looks up and vanishes.


Before the fire? Probably so. After the fire and reconstruction? Unknown. There have been no reported incidents, perhaps because no one was working on the damaged Pagoda at night, when some activity has traditionally happened. Perhaps the spirits took a little holiday away from The Pagoda, because of all the construction and mess (Newport Art Museum). Or, perhaps the construction was a source of entertainment for them to watch!

Time will tell though, if the spirits will become active again in the renovated, restored building.

If the young wife hasn’t found her distraught husband yet, she will probably continue her search for him.

Perhaps the distraction of the construction may stop the grieving husband long enough to notice his wife, or maybe not. They see only what they want to see sometimes.

The entity of the homeless man may return to enjoy the newly renovated Pagoda.

Plus, other spirits hanging around Point Defiance Park may decide to come and visit this new and improved Pagoda!

While there have been no paranormal investigations reported online or in books or articles, staff members and visitors/guests have reported paranormal activity listed above for years, though the spirits don’t directly communicate with the living, asking for help, so caught up with their own purposes.



5400 North Pearl
Tacoma, Washington 98407

The Pagoda can be found in Point Defiance Park, between Five Mile Road and N. Waterfront Drive, with its veranda and second floor bay windows offering a lovely view of the water. It is in the northern part of Point Defiance Park, with walkways down to the other attractions.


  • Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Seattle and Puget Sound
    By Jeff Dwyer pg. 80 -83
    Pelican Publishing Company – 2008

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