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Gospodor's Monumental Controversy

What's a wealthy senior to do if he wants to contribute a little something extra to society? Start a charity? Sponsor a school? Fund a scholarship? Dominic Gospodor asked himself this question and came up with a unique plan. Gospodor, whose entrepreneurial spirit served him well in real estate and pipeline construction in Alaska, decided to use his wealth to commemorate people and groups he felt were under-acknowledged.

The octogenarian's altruistic efforts are on display on a parcel of land he owns next to I-5 North between Toledo and Winlock.

Towering over a field of perpetually overgrown grass are three copper-plated monuments honoring Mother Theresa, victims of the Holocaust, and American Indians. Planned in the late 1990s and erected in 2002, they are known as the Gospodor Monuments.

The central tower honors Mother Theresa, the revered nun who spent decades caring for the destitute and ill of Calcutta, India. It stands 108 feet high, and is topped by two globes stacked one atop the other, then a gold-painted, wood carving of Jesus Christ. At the bottom of the monument, a similar wood carving of Mother Theresa is mounted on a cylindrical base.

The monument on the left, rising to 87 feet, honors Holocaust victims. At its top is an electric “eternal flame” about 10 feet high. Oddly, the flame is contained within a structure shaped somewhat like a lava lamp.

The monument on the right, honoring American Indians (or All Tribes, as it states on an explanatory roadside billboard) stands at 100 feet. It's a simple tower topped with a gold-painted carving of Chief Seattle, for whom the city is named.

All three towers are fitted with lights that are visible for miles at night.

The monuments have been fraught with controversy since the planning stages. Gospodor initially hoped to place them at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church near Seattle's Space Needle. He contacted the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle to explain his proposal, but they reportedly ignored him. He then sought a building permit on land he owned in Sutherlin, Oregon, but their Planning Commission initially rejected his plans even though he'd agreed to the only condition they imposed: a security fence to keep people from climbing on the monument. He appealed and was eventually given permission to build, but by then he had purchased the land in Lewis County where the monuments now stand. Lewis County skeptically granted him permission to build, but required that each tower had to be built shorter and thicker than originally devised, owing to engineering studies that indicated potential wind or earthquake damage. Gospodor, annoyed with the goings-on in Oregon, agreed.

With a site and permission in place, Gospodor’s dream finally began taking shape in late 2000. He had cameras installed on site to watch the construction from his apartment in Seattle. The overall cost of construction was approximately $500,000.

The monuments and a sign explaining the whole endeavor were completed in late 2002. Public reaction has been mixed: many appreciate Gospodor's intent, but others just don't get it. Some have decried the monuments as eyesores, and question the legitimacy of their status as memorials because no government or civic organization sponsored them—an ironic criticism in conservative, pro-small government Lewis County.

Some in the Jewish faith took issue with the Holocaust memorial being so close to the Christ figure, as it was felt that the other memorial, being taller, implied the superiority of Christianity.

By far the biggest controversy related to the Gospodor Monuments has been their location along I-5, where the speed limit is 70 mph. Many individuals and groups, including the Washington State Patrol, consider the monuments and explanatory sign dangerously distracting, and blame them for sudden traffic slowdowns as motorists take them in.

Gospodor has argued against all the accusations, but the stigma––deserved or not—has stuck. In May 2003, he filed for permits to erect monuments honoring DUI accident victims and African-American slaves. Lewis County rejected the permits under advisement from the state Department of Transportation and the Washington State Patrol. In addition to traffic safety concerns, the county also mentioned the site lacked both bathroom facilities and a parking lot from which to view the monuments. The following month, Gospodor filed a lawsuit against the county, the DOT, and the State Patrol, claiming that the decision was unfairly based on opinions and hearsay. A few days later, he announced that he hadn't decided whether to follow up on the suit (apparently, he still hasn’t).

In 2005, Gospodor and his monuments were the subject of “What In God's Name?” a six-minute documentary by independent filmmaker Vance Malone.

What's next for Gospodor's Monument Park? Dominic Gospodor is reportedly still interested in seeing the DUI and slave monuments built, in addition to others he has in mind for Susan B. Anthony, women’s rights pioneer; Jonas Salk, polio vaccine developer; William Seward, who purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867; and Lewis and Clark. He hopes to someday allow for public access to the monuments via Camus Road, just East of I-5 off the exit immediately north of the monuments. He would like to install explanatory plaques and is searching for an organization or government entity that would maintain the monuments after his passing, including paying the approximately $115 a month electric bill.

Whether or not any of this happens, the Gospodor Monuments in have become an intrinsic landmark on this otherwise plain stretch of highway. Whether this is good or bad depends on whom you ask. Whatever they represent to people—decorations, eyesores, tributes or distractions—they remain first and foremost monuments to one man's heartfelt admiration of others, and his perseverance in seeing it expressed his own way.

For a more leisurely view of Gospodor's Monument Park, take I-5 exit 63 and head East. Make a right onto Camus Road and follow it south until you see the monuments on your right. Pulling over by the property's rear gate is much safer than pulling over to the shoulder on I-5. As with any private property, please refrain from trespassing.

Weird Washington

 

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