PORT TOWNSEND — Kevin Mason and many of his neighbors hope Port Townsend city officials will change their minds about his hand-built Raccoon Lodge.
Between 100 and 150 people gathered Saturday at his home at 1320 Clay St., in Uptown, where he has built a house-like structure on the large stump of what used to be a massive, itself much-beloved, Monterey Cypress tree with a 52-foot circumference.
The 150-year-old tree broke in half about three years ago, said Mason, 75, who moved into the house there nearly two decades ago. The professional carpenter and the leader of the popular Kevin Mason and the PT All Stars began work on it as therapy following cancer surgeries this year, he said Sunday.
“Generations of raccoons and birds have lived in that tree,” before it came down, he said. “I felt bad for them and thought there must be something I can do.”
But city officials have said it is a potential hazard and must come down by Nov. 30 because it abuts the public sidewalk and is thus in the public right-of-way.
“I was planning on starting to tear it down next week, but that was before all this,” Mason said Friday afternoon.
When word got out, a petition submitted to Change.org drew 900 signatures by Friday. By late Sunday afternoon, the signature count was 1,795 on the petition at https://www.change.org/p/support-our-local-artist-kevin-mason-and-his-tree-stump-art-the-raccoon-lodge.
“Hundreds of community members have voiced their love and support of Kevin’s artwork and are outraged that the city would try to regulate a local artist’s work in this way,” the petition said.
“We are asking community members to formally sign this petition to support keeping Kevin’s “Raccoon Lodge” art without fear of persecution and encourage the city to find an amicable solution/variance on this overly stringent code enforcement.”
Mason had issued an invitation for a farewell to the art installation on Saturday, but the gathering turned into something else.
It wasn’t a protest, he said Sunday.
“It was love-fest for the raccoon lodge and for the whimsy of Port Townsend. That’s what this is all about.
“The part that I liked about it the most was that it was just about all the neighborhood. … It was a really good cross-section of Port Townsend,” including, he said, “some of the movers and shakers.”
The City of Port Townsend said it’s looking for ways to legally preserve the public art piece city code enforcement officials have said needs to be taken down.
Officials responded to community concerns in a Facebook post on Friday, a public holiday when government offices were closed.
“Please know that the City is working hard within the existing legal and policy environment to ensure we continue to be an artistic, creative and safe community for all,” the post said.
“There are multiple possible outcomes to most challenges, including this one, and working collaboratively, constructively and respectfully will help unlock the best outcomes.”
The city said it would be posting a more extensive Q&A to its website today.
Council member Libby Urner Wennstrom said Friday that a code compliance complaint was filed regarding outbuildings on Mason’s property, not the sculpture itself. Wennstrom said she only became aware of the situation Thursday, and has spoken to city staff about the issue.
“I’m guardedly hopeful that there will be a way to find a way forward, understanding the need for applying code rules consistently and preserving beloved art projects,” Wennstrom said.
Mason said the structure is safe.
“I’m not just a kid pounding together a few sticks,” said Mason, who referred to 50 years of his experience designing and building projects.
“Big branches came down during that storm last week, but not a stick moved on that thing that I built on the front.”
The structure isn’t finished, he said. He still needs to complete the roof and tie it to the stump.
He wants city officials “to rescind the deadline and let me finish and then send a qualified engineer to see if it is strong enough.”
He said city code officials told him that, once the lodge was down, other structures on his property would be inspected.
“I am terrified,” Mason said. “I had not slept for two weeks” before Saturday’s community outpouring. “I was waking up with my heart pounding at 1 in the morning.
“I’ve never had them come after me like this.
“I always thought I was doing the right thing. I was trying to be creative … do something that makes people smile.”
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at email@example.com.
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.