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Tulalip Casino

June 12, 2003

Vegas-style casino steeped in Tulalip themes

  • Amid the bright lights lurk whales, eagles, salmon and even a spear fisherman
  • By JERRY RUHL
    Ruhl-Parr & Associates

    bronze statue standing in front of the casino
    Photos courtesy of Tulalip Tribes
    An early 20th-century photograph of a Tulalip spear fisherman became the model for the bronze statue standing in front of the casino. Behind it, a pair of 35-foot waterfalls flank the main entrance. Lights inside the glass pyramids that cap the building deliver multicolored spectacles at night.

    The new Tulalip Casino, which opened on Thursday last week, represents a new breed of casinos in the Pacific Northwest.

    It brings the sophistication of Las Vegas, and with it, the latest technology available in gaming, security, surveillance and air conditioning.

    Native American themes accent the casino throughout. The elaborately landscaped drive to the main entrance begins with a large, European-style traffic circle featuring a waterfall, followed by a series of ponds framed by boulders and twisting walkways.

    A life-sized orca whale appears to leap from the first pond, followed in the second pond by a 25-foot waterfall embellished with a bronze spear fisherman hunting for salmon. Fountains spout from the third pond, closest to the entrance.

    A pair of 35-foot waterfalls flank the main entrance pavilion. The water pours through rock formations that visually connect the building to the landscaped entrance drive.

    A look inside

    Once inside, visitors are greeted by a larger-than-life bald eagle bronze. A vaulted ceiling features dramatic lighting and a shimmery mural with underwater imagery.

    A circular bar marks the center of the main gaming area. Atop the bar’s cylindrical kiosk, an abstract salmon sculpture reaches toward the 65-foot dome, providing the area a centerpiece.

    In the night sky of the dome, thousands of lighted stars are visible, including formations such as the Big Dipper and other constellations. Look closely, and you may even see a shooting star.

    From concept to reality

     life-sized orca
    A life-sized orca appears to leap from a pond that lies along the casino’s landscaped entry drive.

    A nearly 10-year process brought the concept for the casino to reality.

    Ruhl-Parr & Associates of Bellevue won a limited design competition for the commission with a tribal-themed design that featured three pods holding a 55,000-square-foot casino, 30,000-square-foot multipurpose building and 20,000 square feet of retail space. (The new building is just over twice that size.)

    During the early design phases, a number of ideas began to emerge from the design committee, which comprised tribal staff, board members and the architect. Among the ideas was to use water elements to illustrate marine life and the tribes’ close cultural ties to the sea.

    Another idea was to incorporate the tribes’ salmon-fishing heritage. One suggestion to illustrate the theme was to include a Tulalip spear fisherman.

    A scheme was developed that would incorporate the series of ponds that lead to the casino’s front entrance.

    Cost of Wisconsin, a specialty contractor, designed and constructed the ponds, rocks, orcas, landscaping and lighting. An early 20th-century photograph of a Tulalip spear fisherman became the model for the bronze statue on the main entry drive.

    Interior Design International of Seattle developed designs for the center bar, floors, ceilings, columns and walls. The colors and materials reflect the sea and sea life.

    Novel ventilation system

    salmon sculpture
    An abstract salmon sculpture rises from atop the casino’s center bar. Above it, tiny stars animate the 65-foot-high dome.

    The tribal board of directors sought to have a smoke-free environment for the casino staff and patrons. Though cigarette smoke and gaming once went hand-in-hand, the Tulalips wanted to create a healthier atmosphere.

    To accomplish this, a low-velocity heating and air conditioning system was put into place, using a floor grille delivery system to handle the air movements inside the casino.

    While this system had never been used in a casino before, it has been used in high-tech office spaces and other office environments. Simply put, the system relies on low-velocity air being introduced through a plenum space under a raised floor system and through floor grilles.

    The air then moves upward from the floor to exhaust grilles in the ceiling. Any smoke in the room gets carried upward, away from the guests, through the ceiling grilles and out the building, taking advantage of the tendency for smoke to rise.

    Outdoor light show

    The exterior is dramatically lit at night with a variety of light sources, including fiber-optic lighting that changes colors and special rooftop lanterns that put on themed light shows such as “chasing lights,” “dancing lights,” and “gemstones.” Added to this is the dramatic lighting of the waterfalls, spear fisherman, orcas and pedestrian walkways.


    Jerry Ruhl is president of Ruhl-Parr & Associates, and principal architect for the Tulalip Casino. He says this is one of the most rewarding projects of his 35-plus-year career.


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