NEW POLE BEING CARVED. The present totem pole at Admiral Way park has been weakened by carpenter ants and will be replaced by one carved by a Duwamish artisan. Photo by Matthew E. Durham

Admiral totem to be replaced

Instead of repairing the weather-worn totem pole at the Admiral Viewpoint, it will be replaced next spring with a new "story pole" featuring a localized design.

The existing totem pole is a 39-year-old replica of a totem pole from Canada. Carpenter ants have been weakening the interior of the totem pole, said Virginia Hassinger, project manager for Seattle Parks and Recreation. A metal pipe, anchored in concrete, reinforces its backside.

The new 25-foot story pole is being carved by Michael Halady, a Duwamish wood carver from Port Orchard who claims to be a fifth-generation descendent of Chief Sealth.

The new pole is being carved from a 450- to 550-year-old western red cedar that poachers cut down on the Olympic Peninsula.

Totem poles are not part of Duwamish culture, Halady said. Duwamish carved "house posts," which are like miniature totem poles carved on posts that help support the structure of a longhouse.

The image at the bottom of the story pole will be a seated "welcome spirit figure" representing the friendliness and hospitality the Duwamish Indians offered to Seattle's first white settlers.

Above the welcoming figure will be a carving of a square-rigged sailing ship that stands for the schooner Exact and the arrival of white people at Alki.

Third up the pole is to be a short stack of three faces representing the Duwamish Tribe, who showed the pioneers how to catch and prepare clams, salmon, venison and other local foods.

Next up the pole will be a seated figure wearing a conical hat. He'll represent Chief Sealth, who made friends with the white settlers and was a great chief and orator.

At the top of the story pole will be a Salish thunderbird, its wings spread outward and upward, signifying the power of Chief Sealth.

According to Halady, Duwamish legend has it that the thunderbird killed orca whales with lightning bolts emanating from the gleam in the thunderbird's eye. Then the bird would carry the whales off to the Olympics to eat.

The cedar tree Halady is carving was struck by lightning sometime in the past, which splintered some of the wood in the log. Halady is making dowels from a 900-year-old yew. By drilling holes and inserting the yew dowels, Halady will be able to stitch together and strengthen the portion of the log damaged by lightning.

"It's a mother bear," he said, describing the painstaking work.

Unlike the existing totem pole, the new story pole won't be painted but treated to protect the natural look of the cedar.

Halady wanted to create the story pole "for pride and heritage." It's partly because the Duwamish Tribe is not officially recognized by the federal government, he said.

"I wanted to give inspiration," Halady said. "I wanted to let them know the Duwamish are here."

Tiny Belvedere Park was created when city engineers laid out Admiral Way. The arterial road ascended in a northerly direction to the top of the Duwamish greenbelt and where the road turned west, a 1.7-acre triangle of land was left.

The unusual parcel was officially designated Belvedere Park in 1932, according to documents from the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation. Belvedere is the Italian word for "beautiful view." Allegedly an Admiral real estate agent came up with the name, but a street near the park is spelled "Belvidere."

The name "Belvidere" dates back prior to 1907, when West Seattle was annexed by the city of Seattle, said Greg Aramaki, a real property agent for the Seattle Department of Transportation. However city records don't explain whether the name Belvidere is a misspelling of "belvedere" or whether it was a family name.

The spot used to be called Belvedere Park and Viewpoint. A few years ago, the Admiral Community Council convinced the city to change the name to Admiral Viewpoint at Belvedere Park.

The existing totem pole was carved in 1966 by Boeing engineers Michael D. Morgan and Robert R. Fleischman. It's a replica of a 1901 totem pole carved by Bella Coola Indians in the Queen Charlotte Islands along the coast of British Columbia.

That original totem pole was donated to the city by J. E. Standley, a West Seattleite and founder of Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, Seattle's most famous tourist gift shop. Standley offered the totem pole as an incentive to the city to clean up Belvedere Park.

Even though it was an official city park, trash pickup in the 1930s was infrequent. Neighbors watched its deterioration and, for a while, jokingly called it Tin Can Park. Standley's offer worked and the city cleaned up Belvedere Park.

The new story pole is scheduled to be installed in April.

Tim St. Clair can be reached at 932-0300 or tstclair@robinsonnews.com

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