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Sunday, August 18, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rebuilt pergola 'a gift' to history and civic pride

Seattle Times staff reporter

Pergola pride was bursting yesterday as hundreds gathered to celebrate the restoration of the historic cast- and wrought-iron structure in Pioneer Square that was flattened 19 months ago by an errant truck driver.

Hundreds of companies and workers were involved in the complicated task of rebuilding the pergola, a job many thought would be impossible. Dozens of laborers joined the celebration as the public marveled at the shiny new structure with a bright copper roof and a Dixieland band played "The Ballad of the Pergola."

"This really is a happy day for the city in more ways than one," said Seattle City Council President Peter Steinbrueck. He called the pergola a symbol of rejuvenation in an area of the city beaten down by a string of disasters in 2001, including the Nisqually earthquake and a death during Mardi Gras celebrations.

The pergola, rebuilt at a cost of $3.9 million, is much stronger than before. The structure has a 40,000-pound steel skeleton and the base is welded to steel plates embedded in the ground.

Now if a truck hits the structure, it could damage the ornate cast- and wrought-iron, but the steel structure will remain in place, so repairs will be easier.

Many of the laborers and dignitaries celebrating the restoration of the pergola yesterday said the truck driver did Seattle a favor.

The structure, built in 1909, probably would have collapsed in the earthquake just a month later, noted Seattle City Councilwoman Jan Drago.

The columns holding up the pergola were hollow and held in place by just four screws three-eighths of an inch in diameter, said Heidi Seidelhuber, whose firm, Seidelhuber Iron & Bronze Works, reconstructed the buckets of shards.

"The accident will have been a gift in disguise to the city if we can make the pergola survive longer because of the work we have done," she said.

Seidelhuber said she invited officials at the truck driver's company, U.S. Xpress Enterprises of Chattanooga, Tenn., to the celebration. They declined.

"We wanted them to come," she said. "We all have a fondness for them."

Seidelhuber said the trucking company and its insurance company, Liberty Mutual, stepped forward right away to pay for a replacement. She said the company also showed a lot of humanity to its inexperienced truck driver, Pete Benard, whose 18-wheeler hit the pergola early in the morning of Jan. 15, 2001.

Seidelhuber said she sent U.S. Xpress copper rosettes like the ones adorning the pergola and asked the company to give one to Benard.

For the city, the rebuilding of the pergola became a tribute to civic pride and teamwork. There were so many pieces of cast iron that they could cover Pioneer Square Park, said Seidelhuber. Her firm put the pieces together and cast what they couldn't recover.

Doug Ausink of Queen City Sheet Metal and Roofing said he remembered driving by the wreckage and saying, "I pity who has to fix that thing."

His company, which did the restoration of the pergola in 1972, ended up playing a big part in the effort by constructing the complicated copper roof.

At Seidelhuber's foundry, 14 workers were pulling 10-hour days to get the mammoth job done. The lead ironworker, Bob Fertado, was set to retire the week the pergola came down, but he postponed his retirement and came back after open-heart surgery to work on the project.

A shop class at Seattle's Ingraham High School donated cast-iron rosettes they made at a foundry run by farmer John Bitney. The rosettes were handed out at the celebration.

Anthony Construction, Corona Steel Erectors, Wright, Long Painting, Nassau Rockmount, Ballard Brass, Long Painting, Ron Wright and Associates, and Herzog Glass were also key players.

Many of the workers put their name on a copper plaque that's welded into the structure and others put their names or tools into a time capsule embedded in the pergola.

The onlookers were impressed.

Ivanka Legat, 56, dressed in turn-of-the-century clothes for the occasion.

"I think they did an excellent job," she said. "I come from Europe and I like preserving. Seattle doesn't have many landmarks."

The pergola was built to shelter fancy underground comfort stations to accommodate the influx of out-of-town visitors for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, the city's first big international fair. The restrooms still exist but have been sealed off. The structure is an internationally known Seattle landmark.

Longtime Seattle resident Meredith Snyder drove in from Maltby, Snohomish County, to show her support.

"I love the city, and this part still feels like Seattle to me," she said.

Bobbi Nodell: 206-464-2342 or bnodell@seattletimes.com.

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