West Seattle mystery: Did someone steal the Rotary totem pole?

Notice something missing in that photo? At West Seattle Rotary Viewpoint Park along 35th SW at Alaska, overlooking the West Seattle Golf Course, the totem pole’s gone, with only that blue steel post in place. (Here’s a Flickr shot of what you SHOULD be seeing there; [added 6:48 pm] at left, a Rotary photo.) After a WSB’er e-mailed us yesterday to say she noticed it missing, we put in an inquiry to the Parks Department to ask if it had been taken away for maintenance – and also went over, not just to get the photo you see above, but also to see if there was a note about work being done. Now we’ve just learned, Parks thinks it may have been stolen. We just talked with Terry Boden, who works on maintenance for parks in this area; he says he checked throughout the department to see if anyone has any knowledge of the totem pole being taken away for maintenance, but hasn’t turned up anything – so he’s planning to call Seattle Police to report it as a theft. As donors and stewards of the 33-year-old park, Rotary Club of West Seattle has been investigating too, Josh Sutton tells us – checking out a report of a stuck truck getting towed from the scene, possibly while trying to take the pole away; in fact, while there yesterday, we noted these tracks in the grass:

Parks received that report too and hasn’t been able to confirm it. So if you know anything about what happened to the totem pole, Terry Boden would like to hear from you – he’s headquartered at Lincoln Park, 206-684-7457.

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49 Replies to "West Seattle mystery: Did someone steal the Rotary totem pole?"

  • Ande December 3, 2009 (11:43 am)

    Monday or Tuesday night I was on the 21 and we had trouble getting by because there were two large trucks. One with a type of crane system. They were all parked around or inside the park. They appeared to be contractors as there was no SDOT/SPR signage. Guess we will see haha?

  • Loree December 3, 2009 (11:45 am)

    I saw a flatbed crane truck parked in the grass a few evenings ago, and noticed the pole was gone the next day, but figured they were taking it away for maintenance. Because, really, who steals a totem pole?

  • rob December 3, 2009 (11:51 am)

    any chance they can clarify regarding the towing?
    not to be captain obvious, but if it was towed by a tow truck, maybe someone remembers enough to help figure out which tow company it might be.

  • celeste17 December 3, 2009 (11:52 am)

    I bet it was done as a dare. Or as a prank. I hope its returned and returned in good shape. The desperado’s need to be made to do community service and pay a fine. I feel this is an afront to West Seattle and all the good that is done here.

  • WSB December 3, 2009 (11:53 am)

    Well, on a smaller scale, there was the native art stolen from the former Tillicum Village building on Avalon as reported here some weeks back … you never know. Thanks for the eyewitness reports – such a prominent spot, figured somebody had to have seen something, and if it turns out this is just a misunderstanding, maybe this will help the city track down what happened – TR

  • WSB December 3, 2009 (12:02 pm)

    Rob – A “Pete’s Towing” was mentioned, and Terry from the Parks Dept. told me he’d checked with a company by that name which had no recollection…

  • rob December 3, 2009 (12:04 pm)

    “really, who steals a totem pole?”
    that was my reaction too, but then i remembered that years ago someone stole a blue spruce out of my grandfather’s yard once. it was around 20 feet tall, and would have taken some decent equipment to accomplish. they evidently wanted it bad enough to wait for a time when not only my grandfather wasn’t home, but neither were the 3 neighbors who had a view of it.

  • Jeff December 3, 2009 (12:15 pm)

    @Loree – The famous Seattle Totem pole started out as a stolen one, so it’s not really a first for this city. :)

  • Mark December 3, 2009 (12:19 pm)

    I live across the street from there, and the police had the traffic stopped so the tow truck could pull the crane truck out of the grass. Maybe the police know something.

  • KD December 3, 2009 (12:29 pm)

    @Mark – LOL!

  • Karen December 3, 2009 (12:32 pm)

    I walk by there every morning and was wondering what the tire marks were in the grass that appeared yesterday. I thought it was a car accident or joyriding youths…I’ve been so mesmerized by the view of downton and Mt. Baker these past two mornings did not notice the totem pole was gone!

  • Chris December 3, 2009 (12:36 pm)

    we’ve been stealing native American stuff (namely land, natural resources, etc.) for a long time so this act fits right in with that whole gambit.

  • marty December 3, 2009 (12:50 pm)

    I’ll bet my money that all we have here is a “communication problem” and it was removed for legitimate reasons. Seems like something that big and heavy would not be a good prank target…

  • Eddie December 3, 2009 (12:52 pm)

    “Is that a totem pole in your pants or are you…..”

    And, (famous lame excuse on COPS), ….wait for it….:

    “These aren’t my pants!”

  • Will December 3, 2009 (12:59 pm)

    A totem was stolen from the front of the Alki Market about 20 years ago. It was later found but damaged and never repaired. Not sure what happened to it. That totem was originally created as part of a demonstration during the Seattle Worlds Fair.

  • WSB December 3, 2009 (1:06 pm)

    Marty, I would bet the same thing but Parks spokesperson Dewey Potter reconfirmed, in a note that was even cc’d to Parks’ big boss, they have rattled all the cages they can think of and have come up empty, so, she says, “we fear it may have been stolen.” My other bet is that TV will bite this one if it’s not solved in a few hours.

  • Aim December 3, 2009 (1:08 pm)

    What the hell is wrong with people? Who steals a totem pole? They’re sacred, people. Would you steal a gravestone? A statue of Goerge Washington?

    Yeah, nevemind. They would. *sigh*

  • John December 3, 2009 (1:12 pm)

    Mark says the cops stopped traffic to pull the crane vehilce out of there. You’d have to think that the cops would remember the event?

  • brizone December 3, 2009 (2:14 pm)

    I drove right by that mess at about 6:30pm Monday evening. The crane truck was stuck in the grass with the nose of the truck pointing right up to the street.

    The tow truck (*NOT* your average tow truck, but one of those monster tow trucks) was in the left turn lane trying to maneuver into position in front of the crane truck. A huge mess.

    I didn’t see the name of the towing company, but the truck had a ton of the really slick, horizontal red LED flashers like they have on the Medic One vehicles.

    Was quite a party.

  • WSResident December 3, 2009 (2:32 pm)

    Chris –

    Grow up.

  • seven December 3, 2009 (2:44 pm)

    I thought that totem pole was totally tacky and an unnecessary obstruction to a wonderful view.

  • bridge to somewhere December 3, 2009 (2:47 pm)

    i remember driving by the scene on monday evening. i remember this because i saw a big truck out by where the totem pole would be and i thought, “why in the world would a truck be there?” i vaguely remember what could have been a bucket on the truck too, like the kind of bucket they use to hoist a man up to a telephone pole. i don’t think there was a tow truck at this point — it was maybe 6. also, it was dark but the truck may have been green (i’d say i’m about 25% certain about their being a bucket, and the same thing about the green color — nothing too certain)

  • WSG December 3, 2009 (3:33 pm)

    When I went by I saw it being hoisted out by the crane. It was dangling around. Since it was in plain sight, I assumed it was not being stolen but repaired or taken down for something “Holiday-like” to be put in it’s place…why I have no idea. Tis the season?

  • brandon December 3, 2009 (3:43 pm)

    Seven, lots of great viewpoints in WS. Why the hate on someones hard work?

  • bongo December 3, 2009 (3:48 pm)

    It is bad karma to steal a totem pole. It must have been taken for a reason with permission…this is crazy — so many people witnessing it being removed (which apparently was an ordeal requiring crane and tow truck) — how could this possibly have been vandalism/theft? However, whoever put those deep tire grooves into the grass should have tried to fix that distruction of the lawn. Certainly the police are involved by now — or the mystery solve?

  • FrogBaseball December 3, 2009 (4:39 pm)

    maybe they are clearing the area so they can build a trader joes there?

  • Been here a long time December 3, 2009 (5:40 pm)

    There’s a lot of meaning to that pole. It wasn’t even a park when I was young. It was a bramble heap.
    The park was made and the 18-foot tall totem pole was installed to symbolize the early history of the Puget Sound and West Seattle’s beginnings.
    Research says Robin Young, a Northwest Native American, carved the pole. The pole has been repainted and refurbished on two occasions by local volunteers and West Seattle Rotarians.

    The park it’s self was dedicated in August 1976. (I remember that)
    The City of Seattle accepted the park and viewpoint as a gift from the West Seattle Rotary Club.
    At the presentation ceremonies, the mayor (Wes Uhlman) proclaimed the project to be symbolic of Rotary’s Pledge:

    “Service above Self.”
    I loved that pole. It was striking when it was fresh painted and first erected. I’m sad to hear people think it’s a “Tacky obstruction” I thought the garbage and brambles back before it was a park was worse.
    I hope the pole returns soon.

  • Leroniusmonkfish December 3, 2009 (6:26 pm)

    I just checked Craigslist but didn’t see any Totem Poles for sale.

  • seven December 3, 2009 (7:09 pm)

    I don’t hate it. Just wish I was someone would move it.

  • bebecat December 3, 2009 (8:41 pm)

    There were wonderful large colorful native made Totems all over Seattle when I was young. From Ballard to Admiral Viewpoint and along the waterfront. Big ones by Ye Ole Curio Shop. Sadly many were stolen to the point of not being replaced. Totems were a part of old Seattle style.

  • dawsonct December 3, 2009 (11:01 pm)

    Thank you FrogBaseball. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • Josh W. December 4, 2009 (8:01 am)

    I wish someone would move seven…. West Seattle was the last refuge of the locals that called this place home before the whites pushed them even further away and killed the Duwamish river. I care deeply for that totem and hope it returns soon. Totems have graced the “view” here for thousands of years and I hope thousands more. If you do not appreciate the past, what is there to look forward to in the future?

  • seven December 4, 2009 (8:23 am)

    sniff…you are so right Josh W.

  • Sherry December 4, 2009 (8:26 am)

    My husband saw a large Pete’s Towing truck removing a bucket truck from that site on monday evening between 6-7pm.

  • confused December 4, 2009 (8:29 am)

    I am wondering how no one knows anything of this. It was on the news last night. WSB, did the police tell you anything? What has the rotary said? or whoever owns it.

    • WSB December 4, 2009 (8:36 am)

      We broke the story – Parks didn’t even know it was missing till I put in an inquiry on Wednesday, which they answered on Thursday. What other news outlet picked it up? I know the P-I’s “Big Blog” wrote an item pointing to us but that happens a lot (and our partners at the Times linked to our story). Anyway, we’ll have a followup today for sure, but I don’t have anything definitive to report yet – TR

  • Friend ODingus December 4, 2009 (8:29 am)

    I couldn’t agree more with Josh W….bring our totem home! I remember the first time I saw it, and thinking how wonderful it was to see an example of NA culture so prominently and proudly displayed, with the skyline of the modern Seattle off in the distance instead of the other way around.
    Let’s find it, and get it back in place!

  • GAnative December 4, 2009 (9:43 am)

    KING 5 News (at 10pm on KONG) mentioned the totem was missing and that the WSB broke the story.

    • WSB December 4, 2009 (10:16 am)

      Thanks. Still working this one – followup not likely before midafternoon – TR

  • witness December 4, 2009 (10:20 am)

    gosh, now I feel bad that I saw it happen but didn’t pay closer attention. I am sure a lot of us are in that boat. what a Christmas scrooge they are to steal that!

  • KBear December 4, 2009 (10:52 am)

    …or Grinch! Maybe he’s taking it off to his workshop to fix it up THERE and then bring it back HERE!

    • WSB December 4, 2009 (11:50 am)

      KBear, I’m now going to sing a chorus of “ta-who-do-res” or however the lyrics go … LOVE that story.

  • Chris December 4, 2009 (11:30 am)

    WSresident, WTF?

  • ln8r December 4, 2009 (12:25 pm)



  • Joan Jeffery December 4, 2009 (12:34 pm)

    I saw the whole thing and called the police because I was not sure if park property was being damaged. The police responded and actually directed traffic around the trucks, so they should have checked on the circumstances.

    By the time the trucks were gone, it was dark and so I could not see the damage to the lawn in the park and the large tree there obscures my view of the Totem Pole so did not know that was part of the action.

    It was indeed a large tow truck that towed the other truck out of there. It said Pete’s Towing in large green letters on it and looked official. I did not record the phone numbers on the tow truck because with the police on the scene, I felt there was no reason to do so.

    • WSB December 4, 2009 (1:21 pm)

      Thanks, Joan. Parks insists it wasn’t them but it’s being traced through the truck companies – and police also now have detectives on the case.

  • Amy Lee Derenthal December 4, 2009 (2:52 pm)

    Hello from the West Seattle Rotary Club — we just want to thank everyone for your concern around the Totem Pole. It is one the projects our Club did many years ago and feel it is the “symbol” of our service to our local community. We hope to have the “mystery” solved soon.

    Here’s a short history:
    Rotary View Point Park was once just another piece of city-owned property, overgrown by weeds and a depository for discarded cans and refuse. Voices of protest were heard by Norm Beers, West Seattle Chamber of Commerce Executive and long time Rotarian. He challenged Rotary to do something about it. Project view Point Park was completed and formally presented to the City of Seattle in August 1976, before a large assemblage of civic dignitaries and community citizens.

    On another note… we have our Annual Children’s Shopping Spree tomorrow at Sears where our Club members take 100 children from West Seattle elementary schools to enjoy breakfast, lunch and a visit with Santa! Each child will be assigned a volunteer personal shopper to find a new coat, shoes, and other much needed warm winter clothing. Another fun project we do to support our wonderful West Seattle Community.

    Thanks again for your support of West Seattle Rotary and the Totem Pole.

    Amy Lee Derenthal
    President, Rotary Club of West Seattle

  • brizone December 7, 2009 (1:20 pm)

    What’s the deal about some supposed news story about another pole stolen on the East side??? Was in the updated story comments…

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