Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim declared April 9 as Panama Hotel day. • Photo by Joe Mabel
Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim declared April 9 as Panama Hotel day. • Photo by Joe Mabel

Potential buyers continue to tour the historic Panama Hotel, which is currently up for sale.

Property owner Jan Johnson told KPLU that she wants to ensure the hotel is preserved as a reminder of the city’s once bustling Japantown and the sad history of Japanese-American incarceration during World War II.

The hotel dates back to the early 1900s. Seattle’s first Japanese American architect Sabro Ozasa, a graduate of the University of Washington, designed it. The Panama Hotel was constructed in 1910 and the design, structure and materials continue to remain intact today.

The rooms evoke what pre-World War II life was like for Japanese Americans. The basement, which was used as storage, still contains suitcases and belongings from the past. It’s also home to the country’s only remaining and in tact Sento—or Japanese Bathhouse—which was used as relaxation and a cultural activity by generations of Japanese Americans. Signage of advertisements within the basement is preserved and can still be seen today.

Prior to World War II, the Japanese-American community in Seattle resided in an area 15 blocks north of Jackson Street, known as Nihonmachi (or Japantown), according to SCIDpda.

“[The influence of Japantown] can be seen all the way back to the late 1800s, when Dearborn Street was named Mikado Street and Japanese-owned-and-operated businesses flourished in the area,” states the SCIDpda website on Japantown. “For half a century, Japantown thrived with bathhouses, dry goods stores, tailors and barber shops. This all changed, following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, when Executive Order 9066 forced residents of Japanese descent to leave their homes, businesses and communities and enter ramshackle [incarceration] camps.”

Last April, The National Trust for Historic Preservation added the Panama Hotel to its list of 19 National Treasures named in the Western region of the United States.

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