Port Townsend Raccoon Lodge to stay for at least two years

Whimsical art piece to be loaned to city

A bright sun shone Tuesday afternoon on Kevin Mason and his Raccoon Lodge in Uptown Port Townsend. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/For Peninsula Daily News)

A bright sun shone Tuesday afternoon on Kevin Mason and his Raccoon Lodge in Uptown Port Townsend. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/For Peninsula Daily News)

PORT TOWNSEND — A Port Townsend art piece known as the Raccoon Lodge will be able to stay at its location on Clay Street after the city agreed to accept the art on a loan of two years.

“I’m feeling relieved. It was an awfully long time of being on hold,” said Kevin Mason, 75, an artist and retired carpenter who built the piece. “I’m glad to see it done. The city finally decided to let it live.”

The lodge is a house-like structure affixed to the stump of what was once the largest Monterey Cypress tree in the state. Mason lives in one of the homes on the property where the tree sits and started the whimsical project as a way of recuperating from chemotherapy treatments.

But the tree stump abuts the sidewalk, putting it in the public right-of-way and making the Raccoon Lodge a potential liability for the city, authorities said. City officials told Mason in October the piece would have to come into compliance with city code or be removed.

The issue for the city is that public art pieces must be maintained and insured by either the city or a private organization. The city is unable to insure art pieces on private property and Mason said his home insurance wouldn’t cover a piece that fell within the public right-of-way.

But after an outpouring of public support for the lodge, officials began working with Mason to find a way for the piece to stay — at least for a time.

At its regular meeting Monday night, the Port Townsend City Council voted unanimously to accept the piece as a loan to the city for at least two years, the longest time allowable under city code. At the end of the two years, the piece will either have to come down or be relocated.

“It’s amazing how bureaucratic this process can get,” said council member Ben Thomas. “I trust that it had to be that way, but it’s kind of impressive to see how much work went into this.”

Several council members said they appreciated the piece and were happy a resolution could be found.

In working with Mason and the neighbor whose property the tree also stands, city officials determined that the piece could be reviewed by the city Arts Commission and approved for loan to the city.

Mason was able to have the piece inspected and certified by a structural engineer who also recommended the installation of a roof to protect the piece from rain.

Meeting documents say the Arts Commission approved the proposed rain cover on July 6.

Mason, who was initially upset with city officials for telling him the piece must come down, said Tuesday he appreciated they were able to find a way to have the piece stay.

“I think (Director of Planning and Community Development Emma Bolin) did a lot of work to try to find a way that they could legally make this happen,” Mason said.

“I do have to thank her for that, despite the fact that it bummed me out from the very beginning.”

Mason said his neighbor who shares responsibility for the piece has agreed to help with its maintenance and possible removal in the future.

“I can say that every day people stop and take pictures of it, tell me that they like it,” Mason said. “I’m hoping that it will stay.”

________

Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuldailynews.com.

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