A scene in Seattle’s current Chintatown-International District, beside Canton Alley. Photo by Zijun Cathy You.

The International District is an urban, richly ethnic neighborhood, the long-established cultural home for Seattle’s Pan-Asian American community. It is the only neighborhood in America where Chinese, Japanese and Filipino immigrants settled together. When Asian immigrants first arrived in Seattle, they faced many obstacles. Because of alien land laws, they could not own homes. Because of racially restrictive covenants, they could not live in many neighborhoods. Immigrants congregated to Chinatown, Nihonmachi (Japantown), or Manilatown because there they were welcomed. There was a sense of familiarity with their homeland. It made for an easier transition of life in America to be among their own people with similar life experiences and with the capacity to practice and maintain cultural traditions. With the emergence of the Southeast Asian community, Little Saigon has added to the District’s rich Pan-Asian American heritage.

Today, the unique blend of ethnic restaurants, specialty shops, social service agencies, and community organizations continues to hold a special place for both newly arrived immigrants and native born. It was the concern for the welfare and future of this neighborhood that led to the creation of the International District Improvement Association or “InterIm” and InterIm Community Development Association or “InterIm CDA.”

Early history of the International District

Much of what is now the International District was originally covered by tidal flats. Seawater came up to what is now 9th Avenue South and South Jackson Streets. In 1907, the City went through a massive regrade of Jackson Street, filling in massive amounts of dirt, converting the tidal flats into an area for redevelopment. A significant portion of the Dearborn slope was regraded and a bridge was constructed to connect Beacon Hill to Jackson Street.

Immediately after the re-surfacing of South King Street, which began in 1907 as part of the Regrade Project, a Chinese merchant group, Kong Yick Company led by Goon Dip, built a series of buildings, such as the Milwaukee Hotel in 1911, on the south side of King Street from Eighth Avenue South to Maynard Avenue South. At approximately the same time, the Wah Chong Company built the Eastern Hotel. Chinese family and district associations built workers’ hotels, many with balconies in the architectural style of their homelands in Southern China. Several groups united to form the Chong Wah Benevolent Association. By 1925, King Street had become the core of Seattle’s Chinatown. During the 1920’s, the Chinatown area grew and flourished – the area developed a distinct ethnic identity, a vibrant community of residences, restaurants, shops, theaters, clubs, hotels and meeting halls.

When Japanese immigrants arrived, they built a substantial community, extending from 2nd to 12th streets between Yesler Way and South Jackson Street, called “Nihonmachi” (Japantown) just north of the Chinatown. Although Japanese businesses extended throughout the area, their commercial and family life centered on South Main Street and 6th Avenue South. The Northern Pacific Hotel (NP Hotel), built in 1914, became the anchor of an emerging Nihonmachi. The crown jewel of Nihonmachi was the Nippon Kan Building, a building with a large hall, used by the Japanese community as a performing arts center and a community meeting place. During this period of time, the Japanese Americans Citizens League was formed.

During the 1920s, Filipino-owned restaurants, shops, and clubs were established around Maynard Avenue and King Street, giving the area the nickname “Manilatown.” Young single Filipino males came to America with dreams of making their fortunes, joining an itinerant migrant labor force who worked the Alaskan canneries and the West Coast farmlands. Seattle’s Chinatown was a natural stopping off place for those resting between jobs. They found their way into area hotels, seeking connections for work in the canneries.

In 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Seattle’s Japanese American community was forced to evacuate from the West Coast. Japanese American businesses – restaurants, bathhouses, laundries, dry goods stores and markets – vanished when their owners were ordered into internment camps.

Large numbers of African Americans came to Seattle for military duty or wartime-related employment and moved into the abandoned buildings and houses of formerly occupied by Japanese Americans. African American diners, groceries, barber shops, and tailor shops were established to meet the needs of these newly arriving residents. Clubs and dance halls were established along South Jackson Street and soon became popular as places to hear jazz, swing and blues music. For many years, Seattle’s after-hours jazz scene thrived on Jackson Street.

Significant portions of the original Nihonmachi were demolished to make room for Yesler Terrace, a massive public housing project that became home to a thriving African American community. After the war, many Japanese American residents chose not to return to Seattle or returned to settle elsewhere in the city with their families. Businesses were not restarted. The Japanese community would not regain the strong presence in the area as it had before the war. Merchants who had catered to the needs of the Japanese community such as the Furuya Company and the Tsutakawa Company had shuttered their doors before the evacuation and did not reopen.

One notable exception, however, was Uwajimaya’s. Uwajimaya’s had originally opened in Tacoma but relocated after the end of the war to a small storefront at 4th Avenue South and South Main Street in Seattle and thrived.

Jackson Street Community Council – Forerunner to InterIm

One of the first organizations concerned with living conditions in what we now call the International District was the Jackson Street Community Council (JSCC), formed in 1946. The members of JSCC included Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and African American professionals, merchants, and community leaders. JSCC became a model for inter-ethnic cooperation. It was the JSCC which first recognized that Chinatown wasn’t restricted to the Chinese community. Reflecting the diversity of its membership, JSCC lobbied city officials to designate Chinatown and its surrounding areas as the “International Center.” In 1952, Seattle Mayor William A. Devin, responding to pressure, issued a proclamation designating Chinatown as “Seattle’s International Center.” His proclamation recognized that the area’s “Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Negro” ancestry had made outstanding contributions to the city’s civic and cultural life.

Despite this proclamation, the “International Center” did not catch on with the public. Most people still referred to the area as “Chinatown.” By the mid-1950s, newspapers referred to the area as “the Jackson Street District.” Tourist guides referred to the area as the “International Settlement.” A notice in the 1962 JSCC newsletter referred to the “First International Rickshaw Race” in the “International District.” Gradually, more people began referring to the area as the “International District.”

JSCC was the forerunner to the International District Improvement Association (InterIm). It was a grassroots self-help organization, one of the first neighborhood improvement organizations in the city. JSCC members were active – clearing vacant lots, planting trees on the hillside below Yesler Terrace, sponsoring community events, replacing the wooden sidewalks on Jackson with cement sidewalks, convincing the U.S. Postal Service to establish a branch at Sixth Avenue South and King, and creating a children’s playground at Bailey Gatzert Elementary School.

In 1952, the state Highway Commission announced its plans to build a Seattle freeway through the downtown area. The Jackson Street Community Council argued that the construction of the freeway, later known as Interstate 5, would divide the International District in half because all streets except Jackson would have been blocked. Although JSCC’s lobbying efforts to stop the freeway failed, they successfully convinced decision-makers to build an overpass on Yesler and to allow vehicular traffic on King Street under the freeway. Buildings were bulldozed to make space for the new freeway.

The District hit a low point in the mid-1960s, when assaults and shootings were common occurrences. It was considered to be a “red-light district,” a place to pick up prostitutes. Lines of cars circled the block from Jackson Street to King Street and Seventh Avenue South to Maynard Avenue to pick up the women who ran in and out of the taverns, alleys, and doorways. What had once been a thriving neighborhood was in a state of urban decay. The jazz clubs that used to line up Jackson Street vanished.

Closer to the commercial core, hotels were closed and abandoned, nearly all of the housing was substandard and dilapidated. As a result of the Ozark Hotel fire (which killed 21), the city’s increasingly stringent fire and housing codes required the installation of sprinkler systems which most owners could not afford. Many hotels were closed and abandoned. Social services were few. By 1965, the construction of Interstate 5 had physically divided the area and eliminated businesses, homes, and churches, further contributing to the overall deterioration of the area. Families left the I.D. for Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley.

International District Improvement Association (InterIm) – the birth of a neighborhood institution

By 1968, the Jackson Street Community Council no longer had a presence in the International District. JSCC had moved their office to Rainier Avenue South and turned its attention toward improving conditions in the Central District. A group of business owners and activists, some of whom were former JSCC members began meeting and decided that they needed to form a neighborhood organization to revitalize and promote the commercial potential of the International District. The group including Don Chin, a small business owner from the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce; Shigeko Uno, manager of Rainier Heat and Power Co.; Hong Chin, a property owner; Ben Woo, an architect; Donna Yee, a graduate student; and Tomio Moriguchi, chairman of his family’s business, Uwajimaya. They picked the name, “International District Improvement Association” or “InterIm,” for this organization.

InterIm came into existence, formally incorporated in 1969 as an Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(4) tax exempt, social welfare organization. Funded and staffed through the Model Cities Program, InterIm opened an office in a storefront in the NP Hotel. In its first two years, InterIm lobbied successfully for better lighting and increased police patrols to help minimize crime. Staffing for the agency was sporadic; InterIm went through two executive directors and two coordinators in three years.

In 1970, InterIm’s board of directors applied for full funding from Model Cities to hire a full-time staff person. Eric Inouye, a Model Cities staffer, and Donna Yee, InterIm board member, wrote a proposal to Model Cities to fund a full-time director, support staff, and operating capital but the funding was turned down.

One of those on the Model Cities Board who supported InterIm’s funding proposal was Bob Santos, the 36-year old executive director of Caritas, a youth tutoring program, an up and coming civil rights activist. The proposal was resubmitted the next year and was accepted after intense lobbying from the International District community.

In October of 1971, Bob Santos was recruited by Shigeko Uno and Jacquie Kay to become the executive director of InterIm. Several business people on the InterIm board questioned Bob’s experience and ability to work in promoting the commercial interests of the International District. But what Bob did bring to the table was his record of advocacy and his ability to articulate on behalf of equal rights and equal opportunities. InterIm needed a leader who could advocate on the behalf of the International District. Bob’s background of activism would prove to be sorely needed. One month after he became the Executive Director of InterIm, King County announced that a domed sports stadium would be built at the King Street Railroad Station.

The Kingdome battle in the International District

By the early 1970s, plans were already underway to build a multi-purpose domed sports stadium. Although voters had approved funding for a domed stadium in 1968, there were strong disagreements in the city where the stadium was located. In May 1970, voters rejected the proposal to build the stadium at Seattle Center. From 1970 to 1972, the commission studied the feasibility and economic impact of building the stadium on King Street adjacent to Pioneer Square and the International District – a site that ranked at the bottom of twelve possible sites. This drew sharp opposition primarily from the International District community, which feared the impact of the stadium on neighborhood businesses located east of the site. The King Street site was approved 8–1 by the county council in late 1971. Potential impacts, such as resident displacement, traffic congestion, rising property values, and inadequate parking were dismissed.

During the ground-breaking ceremonies on November 2, 1972, a group of approximately 25 young Asian American activists, including Al Sugiyama, Ruthann Kurose, Sharon Maeda, Mayumi Tsutakawa, Frank Irigon, and Michael Woo, showed up to express their opposition to the stadium. But it was too late to stop construction. Nevertheless, the Kingdome played an important role in galvanizing the young college-aged activists. Preservation of the International District became a cause and then a movement.

The early ’70’s was a period during which different Asian ethnic groups, primarily Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese, came together as part of the “Asian Movement.” In their search for identity and ethnic roots, young Asian Americans focused their attention and concern on the International District. The “Asian Movement” was not only a constant struggle for civil rights and equality, but also a search for ethnic identity and pride.

The battle over the Kingdome served to expose society’s neglect of Asian Americans – lack of decent housing, inadequate social services and continuing discrimination. While Bob Santos and InterIm worked behind the scenes with city and country officials to mitigate the stadium impacts, the emerging militancy of these young Asian activists culminated in a series of political demonstrations and marches that found a place on the six o’clock news.

Activists fought back against the construction of the Kingdome just south of the CID. Photo by Dean Wong.

In early 1973, Bob met with government officials on a variety of issues, primarily in finding ways to mitigate the impacts of the Kingdome on the International District. Bob became a regular speaker at City Council and County Council hearings, testifying in support of low-income housing and social services. InterIm, under Bob’s leadership, became a magnet for young Asian activists, many of whom were recent college graduates or emerging professionals with fresh and innovative ideas toward serving the community. Bob hired Dan Rounds, who proved to be a prolific and creative grant-writer/research/analyst. Plans were developed and proposals were written to fund demonstration projects.

Bob Santos marches with Kingdome protesters. Photo courtesy of InterIm CDA.

InterIm makes its presence known with programs that serve the community

The first 10 years of InterIm’s existence was highly productive. In 1972, InterIm negotiated with the Washignton State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to lease the unused space under the I-5 freeway on Jackson Street between 8th Avenue South and 9th Avenue South, for a parking lot to serve District customers, employees, and residents. A long-term lease was signed and InterIm was in the parking lot business. WSDOT leveled the site, laid the blacktop, and painted the strips for 234 stalls. InterIm Parking was born.

In 1973, a group of Asian mental health professionals decided to start a formal counseling program in the community. Working with social work students from the University of Washington, InterIm found seed money to start the Asian Counseling and Referral Service. InterIm provided space in in the Toda & Chin Building on Jackson Street. Supervised by Tony Ishisaka, a social work professor at the University of Washington, and social workers Sue Tomita an;d Bob Krisologo, student interns Theresa Fujiwara, Jerry Shigaki, and Y.K. Kuniyuki worked out of the InterIm office. ACRS, with an infusion of newly allocated grants, moved out on its own into its new office space in a storefront in the Evergreen Apartments on Jackson Street. ACRS eventually grew into a multi-service agency that became one of the largest Asian American/Pacific Islander non-profit community-based social service agencies in the nation.

One of the positive outcomes from the Kingdome fight was funding for a health clinic. After housing, access to health care was the second most important need which residents identified. A group of community health activists such as Bruce Miyahara, Sister Heide Parreno, Dr. Alan Muramoto, and Dr. Ken Mayeda, were instrumental in developing a proposal to address health issues. Miyahara, with a Master’s degree in health administration, was hired by InterIm to coordinate the clinic project. Lobbying efforts by Bob and other community leaders with the County resulted in funding for a community health clinic. The County agreed to award a $25,000 grant which was then pooled with matching grants from the city and state governments to provide start-up funding. In 1974, the International District Community Health Clinic opened its doors.

In 1974, InterIm was alerted that the property at 8th Avenue South and South Dearborn Street had been sold to Metro. The 8th and Dearborn site was a one and two-thirds acre parcel of land Metro used for maintenance, repair, and parking of its buses. For years, InterIm expressed interest in acquiring the property. After 20 years, the Metro property would be made available to the public. When the property did become available in the 1990s, it was acquired by the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation Development Association and served as the location for the International District Village Square.

In the summer of 1975, InterIm decided to build a community garden. Diana Bower, a consultant hired by the City to develop Kingdome mitigation strategies with the Pioneer Square and the International District, determined that elderly residents of the International District needed a place to grow their vegetables. She recommended the development of a community garden. A barren hillside, rife with weeds and sticker bushes, overlooking South Main Street, seemed like the ideal spot. InterIm mounted a massive community effort to make the garden a reality. Lease agreements were negotiated the City of Seattle and the Woo Family. Railroad companies were approached for railroad ties to shore up the foundation. The local horse racing track was approached for manure to fertilize the soil. Community work parties were organized, bringing in not only the young Asian activists but work crews from El Centro de la Raza and the United Indians for All Tribes. To celebrate the completion of the garden, InterIm instituted the annual summer community pig roast in the garden which continues today.

The Danny Woo Community Garden was created in 1975 and has been a source of happiness and nourishment for elders in the CID since it was built. Photo courtesy of InterIm CDA.

In 1975, InterIm played a key role in the formation of the public corporation, today known as the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority. Two years earlier, the Seattle City Council approved $200,000 in “seed money” toward the development of an Asian cultural center in the International District. After the feedback from the community, the focus changed toward building a community center to house social service agencies and provide space for cultural activities. However, the City was prohibited by law from giving the money outright to the community. InterIm convened a group of community leaders, including Ben Woo and Tomio Moriguchi, to consider the feasibility of creating a public corporation. A public corporation is a quasi-municipal corporation; a community-based organization with a volunteer board of directors and but also a governmental agency subject to oversight control, approval of board membership, and audits by the City. A prime example was the Pike Place Preservation and Development Authority which had just been created by the City to preserve that historic neighborhood. InterIm took the lead in developing a charter for a public corporation which eventually became known as the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority.

In early 1976, InterIm formed a child care task force, chaired by board member Denise Louie, to develop a daycare center for the International District. A child at the Milwaukee Hotel locked in her apartment while her mother was at work set a fire. InterIm found that there was no place for children in the International District to be when their parents were at work. The task force found several potential sites, developed a budget, and identified funding sources. Funding was raised from a variety of foundations such as the Seattle Foundations, neighborhood banks such as Rainier Bank, United Savings and Loan, Sea-First National Bank, the Employees’ Community Fund of Boeing, as well as government grants and individual donations. A site was found in the annex of the old Chinese Baptist Church.

Tragically, Denise did not live to see the project through. During the 1977 Labor Day Weekend, Denise was murdered in San Francisco’s Chinatown, caught in a crossfire of bullets between rival gangs at a restaurant. When the day care center opened in 1978, it was named, the Denise Louie Day Care Center, to honor her.

Denise Louie Day Care Center. Photo by John Harada. Courtesy of IE Archives.

Bob hired some of the young activists such as Elaine Ko, Andy Mizuki, and Shari Woo to organize the mainly elderly Filipino and Chinese residents living in the hotels and apartments, badly in need of repair or renovation. These organizing efforts resulted in the creation of the International District Housing Alliance. In addition, in developing ties with the residents of the community, InterIm relied upon the experience and astute observations of Donnie Chin and the International District Emergency Center. Donnie had a special tie to InterIm. His father, Don Chin, was a respected community leader and had been on the original board of directors who created InterIm. As the indispensable face of the International District Emergency Center, Donnie responded to thousands of emergencies within the District – medical, emotional, and personal traumas; fires; shootings; assaults; car accidents; and water leaks. He knew what was going on in every building in the District, where the problems were, who the residents were, and how to make the community safer. He was the District’s paramedic, on call “24/7.”

In September 1977, Municipal Court Judge Barbara Yanick ordered the closure of the Milwaukee Hotel and the removal of its tenants, citing 60 ongoing fire code violations, six of which posed serious life-threatening dangers. Only 50 of 145 rooms were habitable and occupied. The hotel’s owners refused to pay for repairs to bring the building into compliance. InterIm, the International District Housing Alliance, and IDEC responded by organizing the Milwaukee tenants to fight the closure and address the violations- including defective plumbing and sanitation, inadequate building security and maintenance, defective electrical wiring, broken windows, defective heating equipment, and inadequate door locks. More than 180 friends, activists and community workers responded to help. Volunteers and tenants hauled away more than 20 tons of trash in health department trucks, built fire walls, installed new electric wires, made $8,000 worth of repairs, put up exit signs, and relocated tenants to other rooms while theirs were being repaired.

Eventually, the order to close the building was lifted, conditioned on extending the 24-hour fire watch until a fire alarm system was installed. The fire watch lasted for a year and a half. Eventually, problems developed in the building’s heating plant, the electrical system, and plumbing. Without legal title to the Milwaukee under a long-term lease or sale, it became impossible to receive grants from public and private resources for a complete renovation. After many months of negotiations, the PDA offered to purchase the Milwaukee from its owners for $325,000 but the owners rejected the offer. The fire watch ended, and the 35 remaining residents were placed in other places to live.

Although it was a losing battle, the Milwaukee Hotel episode represented the passion and commitment which InterIm made to the preservation of housing.

Threats to the neighborhood in the 1980s

The 1980s was a decade of continuing threats to the well-being of the International District. On June 1, 1981, Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes were murdered at their cannery workers’ union office at Second Avenue South and South Main Street. They were murdered because of their efforts to reform the corrupt dispatching system of their union and because of their roles as leaders of the opposition to the Marcos regime in the Philippines. On February 19, 1983, 13 people were murdered during a robbery at the Wah Mee Club, the single worst mass killing in the state. The murders in both incidents left the cumulative impression that the International District was a not a safe place to work, live or visit.

The funeral services of activists Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes. Photo by Dean Wong.

There were other threats as well. In the early 80s, King County seriously considered converting the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) building, located one block south of the International District, into a work release center. When the community found about the project, InterIm took the lead role in organizing efforts came about to express opposition to the project. Resident, activists, property owners, shopkeeper – all were against the project. City leaders were lobbied by InterIm and community supporters to oppose the work release proposal. County officials backed down and found another site for the work release project.

One year later, the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) considered using the INS building for a minimum security prison. Again, InterIm took the lead role in organizing opposition to that proposed use of the INS building. InterIm found support for their position from the City of Seattle and ironically, King County, who now opposed the use of the site as a prison. DOJ officials backed away and decided to look elsewhere for a site.

During this same period, the Port of Seattle made plans to convert Union Station into a massive intermodal transportation center which would connect public transportation, the railroads, and taxis. InterIm found that Port of Seattle officials were not receptive to community input. InterIm lobbied city officials to oppose the project. The project died when Greyhound Bus decided that it would not be involved in the project. Eventually, a scaled down version of the transportation center was constructed by Metro with several important differences – Metro listed to community concerns and planned to take the center underground to address concerns over pollution and traffic congestion. There was also a proposal by the city to build a garbage burning facility, which would have burned 2,000 tons of garbage, at the vacant Washington Iron Works Facility, four blocks south of the International District. However, once InterIm found out about the proposal and expressed its opposition to the proposal, it went no further.

There were also positive changes as well in the 1980s. A huge influx of refugees escaping Southeast Asia resulted in a sizeable Vietnamese community developed in Seattle. By the mid-1980s, Vietnamese businesses – convenience stores, travel agencies, hair salons, grocery stores and restaurants – occupied many storefronts on South Jackson Street. The concentration of such activities around Twelfth Avenue South and South Jackson gave rise to calling the area Little Saigon.

InterIm took a lead role, based on a suggestion by Donnie Chin, in creating a children’s mini-park. Funded by the Seattle Parks Department, the International Children’s Park (now the Donnie Chin International Children’s Park was completed in 1981.

InterIm Community Development Association creates housing for the community

In 1979, InterIm created the InterIm Community Development Association (ICDA), an Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3) non-profit organization to take a more active role in preserving and developing housing. InterIm itself had been created as Section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization. The creation of the new Section 501(c)(3) entity provided more access to public and private grants that were only given to Section 501(c)(3) organizations. InterIm kept the Section 501(c)(4) entity because federal tax rules allowed more flexibility to such organizations in lobbying activities. InterIm’s lobbying efforts for more housing were successful. When the federal government designated the International District as a Neighborhood Strategy Area,” federal dollars for housing were prioritized for the District.

In the early 80s, access to federal dollars resulted in the rehabilitation of the Atlas, Freedman, Jackson, Far East, New Central, and Bush Hotel for housing and commercial development.

InterIm staff made conscious efforts to meet with property owners to encourage them to renovate their buildings. There had been a hesitancy among Chinese family associations to apply for federal housing money because of a belief that public funds had strings attached and would restrict their control over occupancy. A presentation was made to the Gee Oak Tin Association. The Oak Tin building had served as the association’s headquarters since 1921. Established in 1900, the Gee How Oak Tin Family Association is the largest Chinese family association in Washington State. After the financial numbers were showed that they could make a profit, the owners became converts to the cause of housing preservation. The successful completion of the Gee Oak Tin Building in 1991 led to the development of the Rex Apartments where InterIm staff worked with architect Joey Ing to design the renovation of the Rex Apartments owned by Ray Chinn and his family.

In the early 1990s, InterIm CDA staff, primarily Ken Katahira, successfully negotiated the acquisition of the N.P. Hotel from Jack Buttnick, who also owned several buildings in Pioneer Square. In 1994, the N.P. Hotel underwent a total renovation, providing 63 units of low income housing, studios, one bedroom and two bedroom apartments for working people. The renovation of the N.P. Hotel was the first project in which InterIm CDA was not only the housing developer but the owner as well.

Following the N.P. Hotel, InterIm CDA developed housing in the Eastern Hotel (1998), creating 47 units of low-income housing. The N.P. Hotel and the Eastern were two of the oldest residential buildings in the District. InterIm CDA then developed 51 units of housing in the Highland Gardens (1998), 50 units of housing in the Nihonmachi Terrace (2006), 41 units of housing in the Samaki Gardens (2009), and 96 units of housing in the Hirabayashi Place (2016) buildings. InterIm also provided assistance to the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority in developing the Bush Hotel renovation (1996) and the International District Village Square Project (1997).

Nihonmachi Terrace offers 50 units of affordable family apartments. Photo by Jill Wasberg.

In 1999, InterIm became a founding member of the National Coalition of Asia Pacific American Community Development, a national organization that now numbers over 100 AAPI community-based groups that advocates and provides policy analysis related to issues facing low-income AAPI communities.

On March 26, 2000, the Kingdome imploded. The old domed stadium had become obsolete. It took only 16.3 seconds for the doomed dome to collapse. The Kingdome, which had been perceived as a threat to the very survival of the International District was no more. In its place, however, were not one but two sports stadiums – a baseball stadium and a football/soccer stadium. But the circumstances were different this time. Community concerns over negative impacts were considered. Government leaders required that the developers of these stadiums make funds available to mitigate negative impacts as a condition of having access to public monies.

In 2000, there were rumors about a McDonald’s restaurant coming to the District. InterIm CDA took a major role in organizing a coalition of 18 different community organizations opposed to the project. Members of this coalition met with McDonald’s officials in mid-May of that year and stated their objections – the potential to destroy the ID’s unique character, increased crime, and a fast-food “malling” of the area. After a demonstration at the downtown McDonald’s Restaurant with the promise of further demonstrations, McDonald’s decided one month later against moving to the District.

InterIm CDA – adapting to change

In the last 10 years, InterIm CDA has continued to evolve as an organization. It has embraced environmental justice as integral to its mission. For example, in 2009, InterIm CDA partnered with the city’s Department of Transportation in completing the Maynard Green Street Project, an innovative project which creates a safe gathering place for pedestrians, uses captured rainwater to irrigate planter boxes, makes it easier for the elderly climb the hill, and is designed to honor the Japanese American experience. In 2010, InterIm CDA did substantial work, upgrading the Danny Woo Community Garden, adding a children’s garden and a chicken coop.

It has also embraced the delivery of direct services to clients. On January 2, 2012, InterIm CDA and the International District Housing Alliance (IDHA) merged and today, the merged organization operates all programs under the name InterIm CDA. InterIm created IDHA in 1975 to provide advocacy for the residents. By 1979, IDHA had grown into a separate organization with its own director, Elaine Ko, and its own board of directors. After IDHA became a separate organization, it expanded its services to include housing services (case management, eviction prevention, emergency rental assistance, transitional housing for domestic violence survivors), resident services (health education, financial literacy, ESL, computer literacy, and civic engagement), advocacy (fair housing, voter engagement), and the WILD youth program (Wilderness Inner-city Leadership Development).

WILD youth participants learn leadership skills in the realm of environmental justice and community activism. Photo courtesy of InterIm CDA.

When InterIm merged with IDHA, it represented the first time in its history that InterIm was engaged in direct service delivery to clients. The merger was entered into because of the belief that it would improve the ability of both agencies to obtain government contracts and foundation support and to make a stronger connection between the housing that InterIm develops and the residents that InterIm serves. And it has. Over 2,500 clients were seen by staff in Resident Services, over 4,000 clients were provided with Homeless Prevention and Housing Counseling Services, over 250 youth participated with the WILD program, and over 70 seniors have kept garden plots in the Danny Woo Garden.

In the early morning on July 23, 2015, Donnie Chin was murdered while responding to reports of gunfire near 8th Avenue South and South Lane Street. Donnie’s death was deeply felt and mourned within the International District community because he had been viewed as its protector. The community meeting space at Hirabayashi Place was named, the “Donnie Chin Community Room,” with an accompanying photo exhibit to honor Donnie’s contribution to InterIm and the community.

In 2016, InterIm CDA partnered with Swedish Hospital, SCIDPDA, International Community Health Services, city and county health departments, and other community-based agencies to develop the 2020 Healthy Community Action Plan. The Plan identifies strategies and practices needed to improve the health, safety, and livability of the community. The Plan calls for increasing investments in public spaces and safety; stabilizing and enriching residential and business community and influencing decision-making and policy around issues affecting community health.

In the same year, work on Hirabayashi Place was completed. In addition to creating 96 work force apartments, InterIm CDA incorporated the life story of Gordon Hirabayashi and the contributions of the local Japanese American as part of the building’s design. Hirabayashi had taken a principled stand against the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II. A mural, “the Legacy of Justice” commissioned by InterIm CDA from noted artist Roger Shimomura is on permanent display in the lobby of the building.

On August 27, 2016, Bob Santos passed away. Bob had been the strongest advocate for the welfare of the International District. His passage had a profound effect on those who knew him or knew of him. On any list of names who made significant contributions to the preservation of the International District, the name “Bob Santos” would surely top that list.

In 2017, InterIm CDA started work on its current major project, Uncle Bob’s Place – a new, mixed-use project that includes 126 affordable units and 6,500 square feet for a restaurant apartment building. The 15,360-square-foot property is on the northwest corner of South King Street and Eighth Avenue South, the former home of the Four Seas Restaurant, just below South Jackson Street and west of the freeway. Units will range from studios to three-bedrooms. Some will have balconies. Rents will be capped at 60 percent of area median income. Total project size is about 89,500 square feet. InterIm CDA hopes to complete the project by early 2021.

The project was named to honor the memory of Bob Santos, the role he played in the development of InterIm, and the legacy of his work to preserve the International District. Bob actually served two different terms of service as Executive Director; first in the early years of InterIm from 1972-1989, then returning in 2000, serving until he retired in 2005.

While Bob is the person most identified with InterIm, he would have shared the credit with those who followed in his footsteps as executive director — Sue Taoka, Ken Katahira, Frank Kiuchi, Elaine Ko, Hyeok Kim, Andrea Akita, and currently Pradeepta Upadhyay, the staff, too numerous to name, although special recognition should be made for Tom Im and Leslie Morishita who have both been associated with InterIm for more than 25 years, and the board, whose members are also numerous to name.

Fifty years of serving the community is a milestone of endurance, commitment, and accomplishment. It is a legacy to honor and appreciate.

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