Rex Apartments, 657 S King St., International District, Seattle, Washington. On the ground floor are several businesses including the venerable Tai Tung restaurant. • Photo by Joe Mabel
Rex Apartments, 657 S King St., International District, Seattle, Washington. On the ground floor are several businesses including the venerable Tai Tung restaurant. • Photo by Joe Mabel

Last November, King County Executive Dow Constantine signed legislation that directs $28 million toward regional facilities. The enacted proposal, titled “Building for Culture,” is the largest one-time investment in facilities and spans from South King County to the core of Seattle with the funding focus of the purchase, design, construction, and remodeling of cultural facilities.

These structures, both pre-existing and new, are vital to continuing the culture and sustaining the character of each neighborhood and community. They are the foundational structures that make culture avenues more accessible to those community members, from Chinese language classes at Chong Wa to housing at the Rex Apartments (which both received funding from “Building for Culture”). This monumental proposal is the brainchild of a unique partnership between King County and 4Culture, a public cultural services agency in the median of the International District and Pioneer Square. Originally derived from the Office of Cultural Resources, a department of King County, 4Culture has been a longtime supporter and catalyst of arts, heritage, and preservation; and has been a strong ally in sustaining the International District’s culture, community, and structures. Past projects with the International District range from funding a high-quality sound system for the Theatre Off Jackson, to assisting with the $23.2 million construction of The Wing Luke Museum. 4Culture has also aided the Panama Hotel in fire escape restoration, provided equipment for the Nagomi Tea House, and supported the 75th celebration of the Luck Ngi Musical Club.

Facilities are often taken for granted and underrepresented in funding opportunities. They place rooves over our heads and ground us to our community. They are essentially the windows to our past and the doorways to culture. “Building for Culture” is making funding more accessible by hosting informational workshops in farther locations from 4Culture’s home base in Seattle, such as South King County cities like Burien and Renton, and offering on-site structural evaluations for preservation projects with a need for infrastructure repairs, reinforcements, and upgrades.

Though both King County and 4Culture have been providers of arts and culture individually, there has never been funding of this proportion directed toward our county’s facilities. The proposal will help propel crucial projects that had been placed on hold just to uphold daily operations.

“There has always been a dynamic tension between preservation and development; we live in an era of development. Historic preservation is often seen as an obstacle,” said Jim Kelly, executive director of 4Culture and the proposal’s founder. Many of the funded projects, both past and present in the International District, have had a focus on behind-the-scenes construction that results in enhancing existing structures but not necessarily on constructing brand new buildings and businesses that are visible to the public or result in immediate profit.

“The ID is filled with important historic structures and organizations that represent the past,” said Ron Chew, an International District community leader. “Often, these funds [for facilities] are not available. Maintaining historic structures isn’t always glamorous, but it is necessary to embrace in order to sustain the community.”

Kathy Hsieh of the Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs also spoke to the need for historic neighborhood maintenance in the face of surrounding development. “Just as one needs to take care of one’s heart to keep it beating, so do we need to care for these spaces so they can continue to house the many programs and services they offer for all people, from youth and families to the elderly,” Hsieh said. “An area of only restaurants and stores is merely a strip mall. It’s the cultural spaces that give a place a sense of identity and make it a real neighborhood.”

Over one-hundred applicants received funding from “Building for Culture,” of which five are from the International District. Four out of five of the projects were in the Preservation of Historic Place or Artifact proposal category, and one was categorized as Heritage Interpretation. The grant winners are:

  • Bing Kung Bo Leung Incorporated: Centrally located in the International District, the Bing Kung Association will be receiving seismic upgrades to strengthen its structural integrity. The building itself has served as a cultural and architectural anchor with a multitude of services from past to present, but has always been a home for immigrants and low-income individuals. Awarded: $182,379.
  • Chong Wa Benevolent Association: A structural and scholarly representation of Chinese culture, Chong Wa has provided lessons for language (both Cantonese and Mandarin), citizenship, and is the base of the International District’s red lipstick-warriors, the Chinese Girl’s Drill Dream, and the Chinatown Dragon Team. The proposal’s investment in youth provided funds for accessibility improvements to provide easier entry for attendees of all ages and mobile capabilities. Awarded: $100,000.
  • Kong Yick Investment Company Incorporated: The West Kong Yick Building received full funding for its project to raise Canton Alley’s curbs to stop deterioration from necessary pressurized water cleaning flowing in from the sidewalks. This project will bring the building one step closer to being in full use, and correlates with the ongoing Historic Alley Project which is restoring the vibrant alleys that are intrinsic to the International District. Awarded $36,937.
  • Wa Sang Foundation (Rex Apartments): The Rex Apartments have provided affordable housing for early Chinese immigrants, and has also housed many significant storefronts (including Tai Tung restaurant, est. 1935). The Wa Sang Foundation has been funded to replace the Rex’s roof and to repair and repaint windows, which will ensure its inhabitants safety and preserve the look of the International District. Awarded: $62,550.
  • Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience: The Wing is known for its special identity of being the one and only Pan-Asian museum in the country, and because of that, its collection is ever-expanding and growing to fit the needs of exhibits that are constantly changing. The Wing’s funding will go towards a new storage system for its collection, which will help it continue to serve as a neighborhood concierge—and on a national scale as a segue for cultural connections. Awarded: $10,000.

For more about “Building for Culture,” visit www.4culture.org.

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