Iron Pergola & Tlingit Indian Totem

Iron Pergola & Tlingit Indian Totem

First Ave & Yesler Way


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In the heart of Pioneer Square, the land from which Seattle's industrial base grew, stand the Iron Pergola and the Tlingit Indian Totem Pole. This property was originally the site of the city's first mill, built in 1853 by Henry Yesler. A massive street-straightening project in the 1880s led the city to condemn the land, and then turned it into a public square.

The Totem Pole first appeared in 1899, after members of the Chamber of Commerce, vacationing in Alaska, stole it from Tlingit Indians. The men gave the object to the city as a gift, but the tribe justly sued for its return and $20,000 in damages. The courts found the men guilty of theft, but fined them only $500 and allowed the city to retain ownership. In 1938, the pieces that remained after vandals set the Totem Pole on fire were sent back to Alaska, where Tlingit craftsmen graciously carved a reproduction. The new pole was soon dedicated, with tribal blessings, at a Potlatch celebration and has since remained unharmed on Pioneer Square. It now stands as symbol of the complicated relationship between American Indians and European Americans.

Nearby is the elaborate Iron Pergola, erected in 1909 as a stop for the Yesler and James Street Cable Car Company. This waiting shelter was the most lavish of its kind west of the Mississippi with ornamental iron columns, wrought iron ornamentation and a large underground restroom. The pergola was designed by Seattle architect Julian Everett, who also designed the Leamington Hotel and Apartments. Today the Victorian-style structure serves a more recreational purpose by providing shade for visitors to one of the city's most popular public places. A 1972 restoration returned the Iron Pergola to its former elegance, and it remains one of the most memorable features of this historic area.