Tacoma park named after timber heir who shook the city

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Individuals with the name George Weyerhaeuser have given Tacoma a shock twice now. In 1935, a 9-year-old timber heir with that name was kidnapped and found days later alive in Issaquah. And 78 years later, on April 14, 2013, Tacoma had another shock when George H. Weyerhaeuser, Jr. died rather suddenly in his boat on the Foss Waterway from a heart attack. He was 59.

In the junior Weyerhaeuser’s honor, on Monday, July 31 a dedication ceremony was held to name a waterfront park after him. The park is located at the south end of the Thea Foss Waterway, on either side of the 509 Bridge, and along Dock Street. Built in 2009, that park, which is made from three parcels, one owned by the City of Tacoma and two parcels owned by Foss Waterway Development Authority (FWDA), had not previously been named. Weyerhaeuser Park includes the landscaped walkway that stretches along the waterfront at a midpoint between the Washington State History Museum and Frost Landing, across the water.

The new wall erected with Weyerhaeuser’s name and likeness was unveiled at the dedication ceremony, under a white tent, directly below the waterfront balcony of Casco Antiguo, a restaurant with the tag line of “the best damn Mexican food found on the banks of the Foss Waterway.”

Folks attending the dedication had come by car and boat to hear speakers and to see the unveiling. Many of the women wore dresses and some of the men wore ties and a few children wore seafaring hats. In addition to the large plaque and line drawing of Weyerhaeuser, the dedicated wall also includes an animated video as well as inspirational sayings.

The Weyerhaeuser, Jr. wall is one of the last installments dedicated to him at the park. Bill Driscoll, president of the Foss Waterway Development Authority, opened the ceremony by thanking fellow board members and commented about construction that is still underway along the waterfront.

“If it weren’t for the smoke stacks visible to the north or the cranes to the east, I would be hard-pressed to conjure up the word ‘pretty,’ Driscoll said, to the gathered crowd’s resultant laughter.

“I would like to thank Tony Carino and his partner,” Driscoll said. “The Carinos are directly responsible for George’s park. They installed this plaza, the wall, and the video. They developed the adjacent park to the south and installed the musical instruments that run along the Foss, which kids young and old play every day.”

The musical instruments Driscoll referred to are the outdoor Freenotes Harmony Park fixtures that Carino installed along the sidewalk at Dock Street Marina.

Driscoll also spoke about Weyerhaeuser’s life and how he cared passionately about the environment and future of Tacoma. Because this local icon was such a mover and shaker, a real positive influence for enhancing the waterfront’s aesthetics – and because Weyerhaeuser was a long-time advocate for the construction of marinas, the public esplanade, a park, and two museums and he established an active environmental stewardship program for the waterfront – Weyerhaeuser seemed the most fitting character to name the waterfront park after.

Later at the dedication ceremony, Don Meyer, commissioner of The Port of Tacoma, spoke. He welcomed folks to the Foss Waterway and commented about the sunshine with its gentle breeze. “This is a day George would absolutely love,” he said and then inferred that difficulties arose from improving the Foss Waterway, phenomena that he said still causes people to ask him what it had been like making all those improvements. “Just imagine changing the largest septic tank into something you can actually enjoy,” Meyer said.

In regard to Weyerhaeuser, Meyer said the man had contributed three things to Tacoma: time, talent and resources. Weyerhaeuser was very much into historic preservation and he was an advocate for asking planners, “is this the right project and can you really get it done?” Meyer said.

While he spoke, Meyer pointed to a grassy knoll across the water and said it used to be a plating site that needed cleanup. Weyerhaeuser had asked him about it when he said: “What is the first thing you see when you come to Tacoma?” Meyer had to admit that the old plating site did not look like an asset to the community. Then Meyer said that George had asked if he knew how much it would cost to clean it up. Meyer replied, “No. But it’s the right thing to do.”

Meyer said Weyerhaeuser always provided guidance way beyond your typical board member. He had served Tacoma as a board member for both FWDA and the Museum of Glass. In addition to having worked for his family’s Weyerhaeuser Company, he helped develop the Foss Waterway and was a founding trustee of the Museum of Glass. Board president for FWDA from 2001 to 2004, he was also the chairman and president of the Urban Design Review Committee.

Born Nov. 19, 1953, Weyerhaeuser grew up in Lakewood. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale and a master’s from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1978, he began working for that 117-year-old timber company with its deep roots in Tacoma, and he held a number of positions with increasing responsibility in that company until he retired in 2008.

According to testimony by speakers at the dedication ceremony, Weyerhaeuser dramatically influenced how improvements would be made to the Waterway and naming the park after him is just part of honoring the man for his advocacy and leadership.

The Weyerhaeuser Park consists of three parcels on either side of the State Route 509 Bridge: 1955 Dock Street, which is owned by the City of Tacoma, and 2101 Dock Street and 2119 Dock Street, which are owned by FWDA.

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