‘Nobody Lives Here,’ now at the Wing Luke Museum, will be adapted for the CID Block Party on Aug. 26, 2023 • Courtesy

In the 1960s, Interstate 5, the North-South highway connecting Mexico to Canada, carved its way through Seattle, demolishing homes and uprooting families. Community activists in the Chinatown International District (CID) such as Uncle Bob Santos fought against the development, but to no avail, leaving a 15-lane scar across town.

More than 50 years after its completion, the CID Block Party is making a mark as a new staple of the neighborhood. The celebration is happening for a fourth time on August 26 underneath I-5, between South Jackson and South King Streets.

The gatherings serve as a not-so-quiet rebellion against the freeway that tore the neighborhood in two.

“It’s a labor of love,” said Tuyen Than, event producer and co-founder of the CID Block Party. “The CID Block Party is a combination of wanting to feel represented and wanting to bring more creativity and arts to the neighborhood,” she added.

Also coming to the Block Party is a version of “Nobody Lives Here,” an exhibit from Wing Luke Museum that documents the displacement of CID residents during the construction of I-5. The exhibit, which opened April 2023 and is on display through March 17, 2024, combines extensive research, decades-old photographs, and personal accounts to paint a detailed portrait of the countless uprooted lives.

An image from the Interstate 5 dedication ceremony in 1967 • Courtesy

“What were those particular buildings that got torn down and the stories that were happening in that site?” [We] used that to look at the bigger patterns of the neighborhood history,” said Mikala Woodward, senior exhibits developer and oral history program manager at Wing Luke Museum. “[We] really wanted to get into the layers and layers of displacement that happened in the neighborhood.”

The collaboration between Than and Woodward began at Hirabayashi Place, through an I-5 activation project crafted by InterIm. Prior to the opening of the exhibit, the two talked about how to incorporate the stories of “Nobody Lives Here” at the location where the displacement took place.

“[After] researching the history of I-5 and the history of the businesses and the homes of people in the community before I-5 was built, we’re activating the space in the present day,” Than said.

Early ideas for virtual and alternate reality projections never came to fruition — instead, “Nobody Lives Here” will take the form of site-specific notes at this year’s CID Block Party. Attendees will be able to learn the history of the buildings and storefronts that existed where I-5 is today.

The Japanese Presbyterian Church • Courtesy of the Wing Luke Museum

“We always wanted to have an event of some kind at the site where you can bring these stories to life,” Woodward said. “CID Block Party is right there in that parking lot, and it’s the perfect opportunity for people to be there.”

Than hopes that this collaboration with the Wing Luke Museum can mark a restart of the I-5 activation project and promote a greater historical understanding of the neighborhood.

“It will start dialogue and connection and raise questions and awareness about future transportation projects.” Than said. “Then we can highlight other issues like traffic congestion and air pollution, transportation equity, and the impact of urban development on local communities.”

Until then, the legacy of I-5’s construction will continue to be shared by hard working members of the CID community. Even while reflecting on difficult pasts, the CID Block Party aims to celebrate the joy of the CID’s residents and the histories they share — from adversity to triumph.

A gas station displaced by the construction of I-5 at 10th and Jackson circa 1937 • Courtesy

“Despite all the disparities and challenges Chinatown faces, this event is just a reminder of who we are as a community and what we represent,” said Ryan Catabay, creative director and co-founder of the CID Block Party.

The fourth CID Block Party will be held Aug. 26 at 900 South King Street.    

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