Subscribers, readers and supporters of the International Examiner have been reading about and attending the numerous 40-year celebrations of a number of nonprofit organizations in our Asian American communities. This year, InterIm Community Development Association celebrated its 40th anniversary, along with International Community Health Services (ICHS) and Asian Counseling Referral Service (ACRS). Four decades of service to our community is no small feat.
And right along with these services to the community, we will be celebrating the 40th year of the International Examiner and its ever-present coverage of community news and highlights. The editors and staff marched along with the early demonstrators. They were with us all the way. I’m particularly grateful to the International Examiner for publishing my memoir, “Hum Bows Not Hot Dogs” in 2002.
How did this happen, and who started this movement? Let’s start with a visual. Try to place yourself at the corner of Maynard Avenue and South King Street before hundreds of tons of concrete being poured into structures and engulfing you as you try to keep your head above the tidal wave.
Forty years ago during the height of the local civil rights movement, young Asian American activists participated in the African American movement; the Latino/Chicano movement; the Native American movement; the anti-Vietnam War movement. We met to discuss the negative impacts the planned construction of the Kingdome multi-purpose stadium would have on our then-fragile community in the Chinatown-International District neighborhood.
Demonstrations and rallies were held protesting the construction of the 60,000-seat stadium. Neighborhood residents, particularly the elderly Asians, were organized to voice there concerns of being displaced by the growth of public developments such as the Interstate 5 freeway and the planned construction of the Interstate 90 freeway to the south.
An old single-room occupancy (SRO) hotel named the Ozark Hotel located in downtown Seattle, whose tenants were low-income seniors, caught fire one night in 1970 with a high mortality rate. Soon after, a new strict fire ordinance enforcing new building codes was passed that caused many hotel owners to shut down their buildings. In the International District (ID), 17 SRO hotels were closed soon after, displacing hundreds of tenants.
While some activists were planning legal action to stop construction of the Kingdome, others were joining an organization of businesses and property owners of the nonprofit International District Improvement Association, now InterIm.
InterIm received funds from the City of Seattle through the Model Cities Program to operate a nonprofit agency to serving the needs of low-income residents and the “mom and pop” businesses in the neighborhood. I was hired in 1972 as the executive director of InterIm.
In order to gain the support of the local public officials from both the City of Seattle and King County, we had to learn and get involved in the political process. After the Kingdome was built, InterIm staff worked closely with King County Executive John Spellman, the King County Council, Wes Uhlman, Mayor of Seattle and the Seattle City Council members on legislation to provide preservation resources for existing housing and develop new housing for our low-income seniors.
We lobbied for public funds to start the International District Community Health Center, now International Community Health Services (ICHS). We got program funds allocated to provide services at the newly formed Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS). Funds were also made available to start several senior meal programs, with Seattle parks land to build Danny Woo Garden.
InterIm staff and board members along with those from the newly formed agencies in the International District spent hours each week lobbying for program funds to operate the much-needed services. Because InterIm was represented by low-income residents, property owners and business owners, public officials were comfortable allocating the program funds to our agency.
It helped that the mayor’s offices through the years worked extremely well with the City Council members. King County government was also nice to work with, although members of the King County Council represented their own constituents in countywide districts. We made sure that county council members knew that the Kingdome was King County property that impacted our community directly.
Up until very recently, METRO — a county wide utility — was represented by both King County and the City of Seattle’s public officials. METRO was also represented by the mayors of all cities within King County. It was this entity that owned the METRO property at Eighth Avenue and Dearborn Street that was surplused in 1989. I was hired by the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda) soon after to negotiate the acquisition of the Eighth and Dearborn property.
After a year of negotiations, the METRO property at Eighth and Dearborn was acquired by the SCIDpda for $150,000. The idea of the ID Village Square was born and the state of the art facility was open with a ribbon cutting ceremony in April of 1998.
Today the ID Village Square houses senior and family housing in Legacy House and the Domingo Viernes Apartments, ICHS, the Denise Louie Education Center, the ID Community Center and the ID’s Seattle Public Library branch.
Very few of these types of services and land transfers would be easy to accomplish today because of strict controls of public property and the seemingly out-of-touch environment of today’s public officials.
But there is hope yet as the mayor’s office and some members of the Seattle City Council are working closely with ID community leaders to mitigate the losses and disruption from Seattle streetcar construction through the neighborhood. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has assigned his top city department heads to work on a plan with community leaders who meet weekly to develop a memorandum of understanding to demonstrate Seattle’s commitment to the International District community.
Stay tuned for more.