One of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, Seattle’s Chinatown-International District is rich with history and culture. According to “Seattle’s International District” by Doug Chin – a government representative from Japan wrote in 1908 that there were 45 restaurants, 30 hotels and lodging houses, 20 barber shops, bathhouses and laundries, and four grocery stores, among other businesses in the neighborhood. Most of them are now gone.
Former contributor to the International Examiner, Dean Wong was born and raised in the neighborhood and has seen it change before his eyes, often capturing it with his camera.
“[The buildings] all have stories,” he said.
What follows is a list of some of the historical landmarks that can be found in the Chinatown-International District.
1. The NP Hotel, or “Northern Pacific” Hotel, located at 306 Sixth Ave. S., was built in 1914 to accommodate weary railroad passengers who would stay there overnight. However, the railroad construction led to a rise in the labor market and a large number of its workers were single Japanese and Chinese immigrant men. The six-story brick hotel housed many of them and served as a cultural center where they could gather to socialize, locate relatives, and get information about jobs and housing.
Famous guests included Admiral Tomosaburo Kato, a World War I hero who became Japan’s prime minister in 1922-23, and the Takarazuka girls (equivalent to the Rockettes). Now low-income housing, the NP Hotel is also home to Maneki, Seattle’s oldest Japanese restaurant, located on the street level of the building.
2. The Panama Hotel, located around the corner at 605 1/2 S. Main St., was designed in 1910 by Sabro Ozasa, Seattle’s first Japanese American architect and a graduate of the University of Washington. The hotel served generations of Japanese immigrants, Alaskan fisherman, and international travelers, who originally paid about $6 a month for one of 94 single rooms. Many of Seattle’s Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps in 1942, stored their belongings at the hotel.
The Panama Hotel also houses the last remaining Japanese bathhouse (sento) preserved intact in the United States. The bathhouse served generations of Japanese Americans in the years before World War II. The Panama presently operates as a hotel, with the addition of a tea shop that showcases old artifacts from before it was renovated. The hotel is on the list of National Historic Landmarks for Washington State.
3. The Danny Woo International District Community Garden, a one-acre terraced garden located at Maynard Ave. S. and S. Main St., provides 101 allotments and 77 fruit trees. Established by volunteers in 1975 and named in honor of the late Chinese pioneer and restaurateur Danny Woo, who donated the property, it provides free plots of land to garden. Priority is given to elderly, low-income immigrant residents of the neighborhood. At the top of the winding stairs of the garden, is Kobe Terrace Park, designed by William Teufel and dedicated in 1975 to honor Seattle’s first Sister City – Kobe, Japan.
4. Adjacent to the park, stands the Nippon Kan (“Japanese Hall”) at 628 S. Washington St., a former Japanese theater, built in 1909, that served as a cultural center for Seattle’s Japanese community. The building, originally the Astor Hotel, was designed by the father-son team of Charles and Bennet Thompson, who designed many other International District structures. The theater featured actors and musicians from Japan, kabuki, movies, concerts, variety shows, judo and kendo competitions and community meetings. Famed performers who played at the Nippon Kan Theater included the Japanese soprano Tamaki Miura and the Eurasian tenor Yoshie Fujiwara.
The theater was boarded up in 1942 during the Japanese American internment, but reopened in 1981. In 2005, it was sold to ABC Legal Services and converted into a messenger office. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The International Examiner office now resides in the building. The theater’s original stage curtain (used 1909–1915) is now displayed at the Tateuchi Story Theater at the nearby Wing Luke Museum.
5. The Bush Hotel, located at 615-627 S. Jackson St., was designed by J.L. McCauley and completed in 1915, to serve passengers arriving by rail. In the early 1970’s, the building was redeveloped into offices for community social service agencies and low-income housing. It was rehabilitated in 1981 by Arai/Jackson Architects for a new Bush-Asia Center and low-income apartments. The hotel features a rooftop greenhouse and a colorful mural created in the 70’s by John Woo on its south facade, facing Hing Hay Park.
6. The Milwaukee Hotel, built by Chinese Consul Goon Dip in 1911, to house visitors lured to Seattle after the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, was a major impetus for development of Seattle’s second Chinatown. The top floor of the hotel, located at 668 King St., served as his family’s residence. The words “Goon Dip Young” etched under the archway means “the seal of Goon Dip.”
7. The Wing Luke Asian Museum, whose name honors the first Chinese American elected to the Seattle City Council in 1962, presently resides in the East Kong Yick Building, at 719 S. King St. This building, along with the West Kong Yick Building, originally created in 1910, by the pooled resources of 170 Chinese American pioneers, served as a hotel to Chinese migrants. The museum’s displays document the history of the area’s diverse Asian Pacific American communities. The museum also houses a theater and large meeting space for community events.
A permanent part of the museum is a re-creation of the former Yick Fung Co, formerly one of the oldest Chinese businesses in Seattle. The import-export business was originally established in 1913 by Mar Fook Hing, a Chinese immigrant who came to Seattle in 1909. The Yick Fung Co. served as an agent for the Blue Funnel Line, one of three steamship lines that brought the Chinese to Seattle before World War II.
8. Chong Wa Benevolent Association, was established around 1915 to provide a unified voice for Chinese Americans in Washington state. The building, constructed in 1929 and located at 522 7th Ave. S. houses the state’s oldest Chinese school, providing language and cultural programs for youth and adults. It also serves as a home base for organizations such as the Seattle Chinese Community Girl’s Drill Team and the dragon team.
9. Nearby, Canton Alley, which runs parallel between 7th and 8th Avenues S. and is bounded by S. King and S. Weller streets, faces the Wing Luke Museum and features a display of photos presented by the museum that show what it used to look like.
“The alley had great meaning to me,” said Wong, who added that he used to hang out there as a kid and watch chickens being slaughtered at a local business.
10. Maynard Alley runs north-south between 7th Ave. S. and Maynard Ave. S. And, the stretch between S. Weller and S. King streets is home to Liem’s Pet Shop and the boarded-up entry of the Wah Mee Club where in 1983, young robbers shot 13 gamblers in Seattle’s worst mass murder.
11. The Eastern Hotel stands near the center of the block, at 506 Maynard Ave. S. It was designed by David Dow for the Wa Chong Company, one of Seattle’s first Chinese businesses, in 1911. The Wa Chong Company operated as a retail and import business and as a labor contractor. Founded by Chin Chun Hock, the hotel played an important social role within the International District’s Chinese community. Considered the first Chinese settler in King County, Chin Chun Hock was also one of the first residents in King County. The Eastern Hotel was also the space for the Maynard Theater, one of Seattle’s earliest movie theaters around 1913.
It later housed a series of Seattle’s Chinese and Japanese retail businesses and Filipino cannery workers. Carlos Bulosan, the Filipino American author of “America is in the Heart,” lived in the Eastern Hotel in the 1930’s. The Eastern Hotel was designated as a Landmark by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board in October 1978. The building was also placed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of “Seattle’s Chinatown Historic District” in 1986.
12. Located at Maynard Ave. S. and S. King St., in the center of the International District, is Hing Hay Park (“Park for Pleasurable Gatherings”), which honors Chinese American veterans killed in World War II. Hing Hay Park was built in 1975 and features a grand pavilion built in Taipei, Taiwan. The park also provides a staging area for many outdoor community events.
13. The Rex Hotel on the southeast corner of Maynard S. and S. King St., was designed by F. H. Perkins in 1909 and houses the Tai Tung Restaurant, at 655 S. King St. Established in 1935, Tai Tung is the oldest continuously operating Chinese restaurant in the district. Founder Quan Lee came to Seattle in the early 1900’s and started the restaurant with several partners after working in other restaurants in Ellensburg and Yakima.
14. The Alps Hotel, is located immediately south of Hing Hay Park, at 621 S. King St. Built in 1910 and designed by John Graham Sr. and his partner David Myers, the hotel was home for many Japanese arriving in Seattle. The hotel is said to be the first in the neighborhood with an elevator. It now serves as an apartment building.
15. Re-New Cleaners, located at 505 Maynard Ave. S. and established in 1940, was the last Chinese hand laundry in the International District. Puey King Wong, Dean Wong’s mother, owned and operated the Re-New Cleaners from the 1940’s through the 1980’s.