Gordon Hirabayashi 1918 - 2012
Gordon Hirabayashi
1918 – 2012

Prior to World War II, South Main Street in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District  (CID) was Japantown’s chief thoroughfare. By summer of 2015, the cultural identity and legacy of this street will be reasserted with the opening of Hirabayashi Place, a seven-floor apartment building on the Northeast corner of South Main Street and Fourth Avenue South.

“We see getting this project there as establishing a long-term foothold for the International District and for families and individuals who want to live here for cultural reasons,” said Leslie Morishita, senior housing developer at InterIm Community Development Association.

Named after the Seattle-based, civil rights leader Gordon Hirabayashi who was imprisoned for resisting internment in 1942, the 96-unit, $29 million, low-income housing development facing South Main Street will begin construction in January and could be complete as early as late-spring of 2015.

Building features to support resident health and indoor air quality will include compartmentalized units with sealed joints to prevent air travel from unit to unit, a ventilation system that gives residents in each unit more direct access to fresh air, carpet-less floors and paint with a low amount of toxic, volatile organic compounds (or low-VOC paint). In response to a city requirement, mandatory composting of all 96 building units will be conducted for the first time, said Morishita. Marpac Construction will also build a green roof and infrastructure to accommodate solar water heating. But sustainability according to InterIm’s definition is “more just the approach of building and trying to make a really high-quality, durable and healthy environment for residents,” said Morishita.

“Internally, the way we think of sustainability is broader than just green features because it’s about sustaining the neighborhood,” she explained. “It includes social justice and cultural continuity.”

Joann Ware, InterIm’s Enterprise Rose architectural fellow who serves on the Hirabayashi Place development team, described InterIm’s approach to sustainability as “preventing displacement that can result from gentrification.”
The construction of Hirabayashi Place is particularly meaningful in the downtown area at a time when there are intense development pressures and rising market property and housing rates, Morishita said.

A block away from the neighborhood transit hub, the development will be mostly one-bedroom and studio apartment units, with 14 two-bedroom apartments for families, said Morishita. A child-care facility and nonprofit community gathering spot might occupy much of Hirabayashi Place’s 6,500 square feet of ground-floor commercial space. And though the development has been described as “workforce housing” and “transit-oriented” due to its close proximity to the neighborhood transit hub, Ware said maintaining Hirabayashi Place as a lively cultural space where the residents are invested in the neighborhood is a higher priority.

(Above): WILD mural project artists celebrate the completion of their mural project with Glen Andag, WILD student services coordinator (far left), Esther Furugori (center), WILD program manager Jamie Stroble (second to the far right) and Joann Ware, archtecture fellow at InterIm (far right). Photo courtesy of InterIm.
(Above): WILD mural project artists celebrate the completion of their mural project with Glen Andag, WILD student services coordinator (far left), Esther Furugori (center), WILD program manager Jamie Stroble (second to the far right) and Joann Ware, archtecture fellow at InterIm (far right). Photo courtesy of InterIm.

Last year, InterIm formed a “Legacy of Justice” committee for the development, a group charged with stewarding “the creation of public art, interpretive display, activities and events in, on and associated with the Hirabayashi Place housing project to celebrate, honor and educate the public about the story and legacy of Gordon Hirabayashi,” according to its mission.

Forty years after Hirabayashi’s incarceration in 1942 for refusing to register with an internment camp, he sought and won vacation of his wartime convictions with proof that the U.S. government destroyed and suppressed evidence that would have deemed the military’s incarceration of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans unjustifiable. Last spring, just months after his death, Hirabayashi was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Gordon Hirabayashi’s famous Seattle court case is recognized as a victory not only for himself or for Japanese Americans, but as a victory for everyone, for fairness, for justice and for equality,” said Morishita.

His story and legacy will be reflected in art installations inside and around the building curated by award-winning Seattle artist Norie Sato, who served as the curator of public art for Sound Transit’s Link light-rail project.

As part of their environmental justice curriculum, InterIm’s Wilderness Inner-city Leadership Development (WILD) youth program participants were also able to create a nine-panel mural (pictured below) in homage to Gordon Hirabayashi’s fight for justice. The mural will be displayed on the building currently at the project site prior to construction and will adorn the fence around the site once construction begins.

“Gordon would be honored just to have all this history presented,” said Esther Furugori, a member of the justice committee and Hirabayashi’s sister. “As students learn about him …  his words and actions will be carried on and will continue to teach the coming generations.”

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