preserving seattle's international district

4Culture is excited to announce three preservation projects in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District (I.D.) that will be happening over the next couple of months. All three sites are significant for their association with Japanese & Chinese immigration to the United States and continue to play a vital role as gathering places for locals and visitors in the International District.

A National Historic Landmark, the Panama Hotel was built 1910 as a single-room occupancy (SRO) hotel, primarily serving newly immigrated Japanese. Designed by Sabro Ozasa, a Japanese immigrant and one of the first Japanese architects to practice in the Seattle area, the hotel retains much of its original character both inside and out. Visitors can stay in one of the single rooms, or tour the original Hashidate Yu bathhouse, a traditional Japanese-style bathhouse in the basement of the hotel, or explore the ground level retail. Approaching the hotel from the street, visitors will also see the original, beautiful worked, iron fire escapes located on the east and west exterior walls. 4Culture funds will go towards stabilizing these working fire escapes for continued use in the future. Extant features like these are what cement the Panama Hotel’s key position in historic Nihonmachi (Japantown) and as a contributing building within the International District.

Also constructed in 1910, the West Kong Yick building was one of two twin buildings erected side-by-side in the I.D. by the Kong Yick Investment Company. The investment company pooled money from local Chinese American community members to fund the construction of buildings that would serve as the anchor of a “new” Chinatown. These buildings originally functioned as gathering spaces for the Chinese American community and as temporary residences for Chinese immigrants. 4Culture funds will be used to continue the owners’ massive rehabilitation effort by stabilizing the roof and south wall of the building. Work is currently underway, and if you have passed by the building recently, you will see 4Culture’s banner proudly displayed on the S. King Street façade.

In Seattle, the Murakami family stores have served as a social gathering place for Japanese patrons and community members in since Sanzo Murakami opened the original Higo Ten Cent Store in 1909 on Weller Street. In 1931 he relocated the store to a newly constructed building on S. Jackson Street, where the Higo Variety Store operated for the next seventy years. More than just a place to purchase traditional Japanese items/foodstuffs, locals would come to socialize, locate relatives, and get information about jobs and housing. The space currently holds a small gallery featuring Japanese crafts and design, yet the “Higo Variety Store” sign still stands as a physical reminder of the important role the Murakami store played in Seattle’s Japanese American community. 4Culture funds will be used to rehabilitate the sign, an illuminated steel and plastic design that was installed in 1957.

For more information on 4Culture’s Landmark Challenge Grant program, which funded these projects, contact Flo Lentz, Preservation lead, at flo.lentz@4culture.org or 206 296.8682.

Images: 2011 © Panama Hotel, courtesy of Jan Johnson; 2011 © West Kong Yick building, 4Culture staff; 2011 © Jackson Building/Higo Variety Store, courtesy of Paul Murakami