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I have a very visceral memory of the day I learned the Tsutakawa Gates were stolen from the entry to the Arboretum.

It was the morning of March 19, 2020, the start of the pandemic shut down, and I had swung by my office at the Graham Visitors Center early to pick up a few things from my desk—like so many others, preparing to work remotely. My co-worker met me outside and said, “The Gates were stolen last night”. What?!? No. Too heavy. Not possible. I walked over to the stone posts where the bronze Gates had stood, trying to register what I was seeing. Unfathomable. I could see them every day outside my office window, tucked in amongst a canvas of foliage. Now they were gone, erased from the landscape. I was heartsick.

As the day wore on, the news of the theft spread and was greeted with frustration, sadness, and grief. When the Gates were eventually recovered, they had been cut up for scrap, destroyed beyond repair.

Since 1976, the Memorial Gates greeted thousands of visitors to the Arboretum, providing a powerful connection between art and nature. Commissioned by the Arboretum Foundation, they were created by the artist George Tsutakawa (1910–1997) to commemorate all those who have loved and supported the Arboretum.

Archival photo of George Tsutakawa standing at the Arboretum’s Memorial Gates.

George’s legacy runs deep in the fabric of the Pacific Northwest. His work is recognized as a unique merging of Japanese and Northwest aesthetic traditions into a unified expression. He and his family have made invaluable contributions over the years to the cultural life of our region. After the theft of the Gates, George’s son, Gerard, and daughter, Mayumi, immediately began working with the Foundation on a plan to bring the Gates back.

Gerard fabricated the original gates for this father; he has the blueprints and quickly agreed to re-create the gates. Community members began contacting us to offer their support. The Tsutakawa Gates Replacement Project was formed to raise the funds to make it all possible.

The Replacement Project campaign set a goal to raise $150,000, and this month that goal was reached, thanks to many generous donors. The funding also includes $28,000 from the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture and a grant of $7,500 from King County’s 4 Culture, in recognition of the importance of this project to the community. Many thanks to all who stepped up to support this project!

A message of hope and resilience left on one of the vandalized gate posts.

About a week after the Gates were stolen, I was walking by the empty posts and saw that someone had placed a painted stone there with the words “Stay Strong” on it, and I burst into tears. It was like a rose rising through a crack in the pavement. The Memorial Gates have welcomed generations of visitors to the Arboretum, and their return will be a celebration of the resilience we have all witnessed this past year and a half.

Fabrication of the new gates is scheduled to begin this fall. Installation—and a public celebration—will likely take place in spring 2022. Stay tuned to our project page for updates and news. And, yes, “stay strong”!

Tess Forté is the Events and Corporate Sponsorship Manager at the Arboretum. Foundation.