Japanese landmarks on two local campuses to be restored

By Staff
Northwest Asian Weekly

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“Fountain” by George Tsutakawa (Photo from UW Tacoma)

Two local college campuses are preparing to commission and restore art installations relating to Japanese history.

The University of Washington Tacoma is commissioning a new work by sculptor Gerard Tsutakawa to memorialize the Japanese Language School that once existed in Tacoma, but ceased operations following the internment of the city’s Japanese population.

Meanwhile, Seattle Central Community College is restoring a work by artist George Tsutakawa, Gerard Tsutakawa’s father, which was donated in the 1970s.

Remembering the Japanese Language School

UW Tacoma is commissioning a public sculpture to serve as a memorial to the Japanese Language School that was constructed in 1922 in Tacoma’s Japan Town and expanded in 1926 to serve as a cultural center.

Tacoma’s Japan Town did not return following World War II, and the building gradually deteriorated. It was cited by the city as a hazard in 2003. The university hired a preservation-oriented architectural firm that determined the building could not be restored with historic integrity, and the building was demolished in 2004.

The memorial, to be completed in early 2014, will feature a bronze sculpture by Tsutakawa.

As part of the memorial project, a bronze plaque will tell the story of the school and its community.

“Readapting historic buildings has been a cornerstone of UW Tacoma,” said Mike Wark, director of external relations for UW Tacoma. “We couldn’t save the Japanese Language School building … so we committed to raise funds for a memorial to preserve its heritage as an institution that served to uplift the Japanese American community.”

The sculpture and plaque will be installed along the Prairie Line Trail — UW Tacoma Station, a park running through the core of the school’s campus.

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Students of the Japanese Language School posing in front of the school building. (Photo from UW Tacoma)

State funds cannot be used for the project, so the university has turned to the community to raise funds to install the memorial. The university and project supporters are now within $8,000 of an extended goal.

Along with a committee of former students, Greg Tanbara, son of former student at the language school, has served as a lead volunteer on the project.

“This project is dear to the hearts of many people of my parents’ generation, and we want to be sure everyone who has been supportive of the idea of creating the memorial over the years has an opportunity to participate in this fundraising effort,” said Tanbara. “I don’t want anyone to be left out.”

Restoring a past gift

While the effort at UW Tacoma is nearing completion, a group at the Seattle Central Community College is just beginning their efforts to restore a landmark on campus donated by artist George Tsutakawa, father of Gerard Tsutakawa.

Prior to internment, Broadway High School — which would become the site of Seattle Central Community College — was an integral part of life for the residents of Seattle’s Japan Town. Hundreds of Japanese American students attended the school, including George Tsutakawa.

However, in April of 1942, one quarter of Broadway High School’s student body failed to report to class. Instead, the approximately 200 young Japanese Americans and their families were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to internment camps.

In 1973, George Tsutakawa presented SCCC with “Fountain,” one of 70 fountains he produced worldwide and the only one to be installed at a community college. It is one of 14 Tsutakawa fountains located in Seattle.

When the fountain was originally installed at Seattle Central, Tsutakawa envisioned it residing in its current central location, creating a link to the history of Seattle Central for future students and community members.

However, the work has fallen into disrepair and no longer serves as a focal point for the college.

“The work of George Tsutakawa has had enormous personal meaning for me, particularly when I was a fine arts student in the 1970s,” Tina Young, Director of Multicultural Services at Seattle Central, said. “He was one of the first Asian American artists that I learned about, not from art history or contemporary art classes, but from my Asian American/Ethnic Studies classes. … The restoration of this important art work will give opportunity for countless current and future students to learn from the deep community threads that connect so many facets of the college to people, historical times, community hopes and aspirations, and it will be a space of visual, kinetic, and auditory beauty for all to enjoy.” (end)

For more information about the Japanese Language School at UW Tacoma, visit tacoma.uw.edu/jls.

For more information about the Tsutakawa fountain at Seattle Central Community College, contact Tsutakawa Fountain Committee at 206-934-4085.

Northwest Asian Weekly staff can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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