The Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple on South Main Street just outside Little Saigon is still  temporarily closed and assessing damage from an arson that occurred in the early hours of New Years Eve • Creative Commons

New Little Saigon park opening delayed, to open June

Almost a year after it broke ground, the new Little Saigon park will finally open in June with a community ribbon cutting ceremony. According to Seattle Parks and Recreation, contractor Harkness Construction faced delays caused by poor soil conditions, requiring more excavation. The northwest corner of the park also needed to be redesigned due to unexpected site conditions and placement of a guide wire.

The new park will have lighting at night, play structures for small children, a lawn, an amphitheater, and a mural which Friends of Little Sài Gòn is working with the community to design.

The Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, a partner on the project, also selected artist Kalina Chung to create a new free-standing art piece for the new park to serve as an entryway. Chung’s piece is inspired by Vietnamese Tube Houses.

The new park is the culmination of efforts by Friends of Little Sài Gòn to create an open, recreational space in the neighborhood – in fact, the park was one of the reasons Friends of Little Sài Gòn was originally founded. Parks and Recreation purchased the park site in 2013.

Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple recovering from New Years Eve arson

The Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple on South Main Street just outside Little Saigon is still  temporarily closed and assessing damage from an arson that occurred in the early hours of New Years Eve, which damaged interiors and destroyed archives more than 120 years old.

The Seattle Times reported in January that police arrested a 42-year-old man a block from the temple, who told them he has paranoid schizophrenia, believed he was being followed by the federal government, and said he started the fire at the temple.

The Seattle Fire Department ruled the fire was intentionally set, and police referred the case to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office requesting charges of second-degree arson and burglary.

The fire destroyed archives dating back to the Temple’s founding in 1901, including documents from when Japanese American Temple members were incarcerated in camps during WWII.

“The significance of losing them is quite great, because we have quite a lot of history there,” said said Marissa Wong, a board member of the temple. Lost documents included photos and family histories from temple members who are the descendents of the temple’s original founders, as well as old temple board meetings and other records of the organization. “Many of them were not digitized yet, only about 10%,” Wong said. “We were starting to digitize. So whatever was left, we unfortunately lost.” Volunteers are at work trying to salvage photos and documents.

The fire also damaged the nokotsudo where urns of deceased members of the temple are kept, and an altar in the main hall was sent to Japan for restoration.

“There has been quite extensive smoke damage throughout the entire building, and because the building is so large, unfortunately it’s been difficult to properly assess exactly what we need to do in terms of next steps,” Wong said. “It’s happening slowly but surely.”

The temple is assessing the damage with the help of an outside contractor, and in the meantime has removed carpets and is treating items to remove smoke odor.

While the temple remains closed, members have been welcomed at services at sibling temples in Tacoma and Auburn, Wong said.

Those interested in keeping up to date with the arson recovery or donating can find more information online at https://seattlebetsuin.com/fire/

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