A three-ton carved stone sits in anonymity alongside the Heritage Park trail that zig-zags down the hill from the Temple of Justice to Capitol Lake.
The architectural sandstone is 7 feet, 2 inches long, 3 feet tall, 16 inches wide and more than 100 years old.
Dozens of people walk by it each day, many on lunch breaks from their Capitol Campus jobs. A few stop to sit on it, treating it like a stone bench strategically placed to take in a vista that includes Capitol Lake, the Fifth Avenue Dam, lower Budd Inlet, the Olympia Yacht Club, Percival Landing, private marinas and the Olympic Mountains far to the north.
So where did this ornamental oddity come from? Marygrace Jennings, cultural resources manager for the state Department of Enterprise Services, has the answer.
It is the original carved center stone from the north balustrade of the Temple of Justice. Its architectural name is cartouche, which represents a slightly convex oblong or oval design, often — as in this case — edged with ornamental scrollwork.
It would still be on the temple, if not for a construction accident in 2003. Two years earlier the Nisqually Earthquake caused millions of dollars of damage to Capitol Campus buildings, including the Temple of Justice. The entire north balustrade, a stone railing that stretches across the north side of the temple, had to be removed to make way for seismic upgrades of a building, which celebrated its 100th birthday in January.
In June 2003, a contractor was lifting the 6,500-pound stone back into place but the crane tipped over because of a miscalculation of the stone’s weight. The stone fell to the ground and one edge was damaged.
A search began for a chunk of sandstone, flawless and large enough for noted Tenino stone carver Keith Phillips to carve a replacement piece. One was found at the Wilkeson sandstone quarry in Pierce County, home to the sandstone used to build the Temple of Justice all those years ago.
Using the damaged stone as a template, Phillips worked his magic and the new stone was lifted into place and pinned to the building with internal dowels.
After Phillips finished his work, the state stashed the original damaged stone at a private storage yard and warehouse in Tumwater along with other construction materials associated with the earthquake repairs. But the stone needed to be moved because it was causing damage to the asphalt and drainage system in the storage yard.
Rather than store it out of sight indefinitely, it was placed on the Heritage Park switchback trail in 2010, directly below its original location on the building. It’s been tagged with graffiti a couple of times, but it was cleaned and sprayed last year with a graffiti-resistant surface coating that seems to be working well, Jennings said.
But there’s no plaque or sign telling even an abbreviated history of the stone.
“I’m sure people who walk by are curious about it,” Jennings agreed.
Seems to me that the ornamental stone deserves an explanation. A simple marker stating the stone’s origin and how it got there would suffice. It might even make a good project for an aspiring Eagle Scout.
“I’m all for it,” state Capitol history buff and Olympia attorney Allen Miller said. “It would be a nice touch.”
I don’t spend much time on the north side of the Temple of Justice, but I was there Wednesday for two reasons. First, I wanted to check out Phillip’s replacement carving. It fits in nicely with the companion stones to its left and right along the balustrade.
Second, I met with Enterprise Services planner Nathaniel Jones to watch a work crew from the Cedar Creek Corrections Center near Littlerock put the finishing touches on a $60,000 landscaping project to improve slope stability on the steep hillside that plunges 100 feet from the Capitol Campus down to the lake shoreline.
The marine bluff that extends from the Pritchard Building to the General Administration Building is a nagging source of landslides and slope failures, posing a threat to Capitol Campus infrastructure and people walking and running on the trail below.
The hillside restoration included removal of hazardous trees and invasive English ivy. They were replaced with about 1,500 native trees, shrubs and ground covers that should provide a nice mix of well-rooted vegetation to soak up rain water and hold loose soils in place.
The crew even received an impromptu visit from Gov. Jay Inslee the other day. He lives and works just a stone’s throw from the project site.
The soft engineering solution to a vexing geological problem isn’t a cure-all, but it should help. Now if we could just find a way to get rid of the New Zealand mud snails that invaded Capitol Lake almost four years ago, placing the lake off-limits to recreational use.