PORT TOWNSEND — A beloved art piece known as the Raccoon Lodge may be able to remain for at least another year if the City of Port Townsend Arts Commission agrees to take responsibility for the structure.
The piece is a house-like structure built on the stump of what was once the largest Monterey Cypress in the state of Washington, and it became a flash point in the community last fall when city officials said it might have to come down.
The issue is that the piece — built by retired carpenter Kevin Mason — abuts the city sidewalk, placing it within the public right-of-way.
In November, city officials told Mason the structure needed to be permitted in order to remain.
The community rallied in support of the piece, with an online petition garnering over 1,700 signatures in less than 24 hours and more than 75 people attending a rally calling on the city to allow the lodge to remain.
The city responded by providing several options for the future of the lodge, and on Wednesday Mason opted to potentially loan the piece to the city as a public art structure for at least a year, possibly two, pending acceptance by the city’s Arts Commission.
“It’s not solved completely but it feels as though they are open to seeing a solution where it’s able to stay on for two years,” Mason said. “It’s not completely solved yet because it has to go in front of the Arts Commission.”
Mason, 75, has said he has previously undergone cancer treatment and began work on the lodge as a way to recuperate physically and emotionally from chemotherapy.
In the past, Mason has expressed deep frustration with city officials for telling him to take down what he said was his gift to the community but said his last meeting was more hopeful.
“It felt as though it seemed they were being more sensitive to the facts that the community appeared to want to keep this thing,” Mason said. “I felt as though there was more of a spirit of cooperation.”
The city sent Mason a list of options for the lodge’s future in November and provided multiple deadline extensions for a decision to be made. The tree stump straddles Mason’s property and that of his neighbors who were also included in the decision-making process.
According to Emma Bolin, Port Townsend’s director of Planning and Community Development, the city has a responsibility to maintain safe travel in public rights of way and art pieces must be loaned in order to be added to the city’s liability insurance.
“We’re looking for a way to find solutions for things that don’t always fit into the box,” Bolin said.
The Arts Commission is meeting on April 20 and will make a recommendation to the City Council about whether the city should accept the piece on loan, Bolin said. City code allows for the city to accept loaned art for up to two years and Bolin said a further extension may require a change to the city’s code.
“Most of the art projects that we have, they’re not loaned; usually they’re donations,” Bolin said. “This is probably going to be the example for any other project in the future.”
Mason said he was concerned about his having to take the structure down at age 77 in two years, but told PDN his neighbor accepted responsibility for that task should it become necessary.
Mason will have to submit an application to the Arts Commission by April 14, and present his plan at the meeting on the 20th.
“I have to provide them with what my overreaching vision is for the piece,” Mason said. “My intent was to create a joyful piece for the neighborhood, it’s an art piece that’s made to bring a smile, that’s all it was about.”
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.