Seattle Chinatown-International District

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Seattle Chinatown Historic District
Chinatown Entrance Seattle.jpg
Chinatown Gate of Seattle International District
Location Roughly bounded by Main, Jackson, I-5, Weller, and Fifth, Seattle, Washington
Area 23 acres (9.3 ha)
Architectural style Beaux Arts
Governing body Federal
NRHP Reference # 86003153[1]
Added to NRHP November 6, 1986
Location of International District within Seattle.
Location of Seattle within King County and the state.
Uwajimaya Village.

The Chinatown-International District of Seattle, Washington (also known by its component names or simply as the I.D.) is an ethnic enclave neighborhood and is the center of Seattle's Asian American community. The neighborhood is multiethnic, consisting mainly of people who are of Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino ethnicity. There are also significant populations of people who are of Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Laotian, Cambodian, and Pacific Islander descent, as well as other communities.[2][3][4]

Hing Hay Park, at the corner of S. King Street and Maynard Avenue S., is a popular gathering place in the International District. The Wing Luke Asian Museum is an important cultural institution in the neighborhood, as was the Nippon Kan Theatre until its recent closure. Kobe Terrace, on the steep slope between I-5 and S. Main Street, is another important site, where many neighborhood residents have urban gardens in the Danny Woo International District Community Garden. The district includes Uwajimaya Village, named after Uwajimaya; across Fifth Avenue from Uwajimaya Village is the Union Station office complex, built where abandoned Union Pacific Railroad tracks once ran.

According to the 2000 census,[dated info] the International District is 56% Asian, 15% black, 15% white, and 5% Hispanic/Latino.


The neighborhood encompasses the blocks east of Fifth Avenue S., beyond which are Pioneer Square and SoDo; west of Boren and Rainier Avenues S., beyond which is Rainier Valley; north of S. Dearborn Street, beyond which are Beacon Hill and the Industrial District; and south of S. Main Street, beyond which is Downtown and First Hill. The portion east of Interstate 5 and north of South Lane Street has been dubbed "Little Saigon" because of the high concentration of Vietnamese businesses there. The main thoroughfares in Chinatown are South Jackson Street and South King Street (both east- and westbound); and the prominent thoroughfare in Little Saigon is 12th Avenue South (north- and southbound) intersecting at South Jackson Street.


Chinese New Year 2007: Lion dancers in the firecracker smoke.

19th century[edit]

Chinese immigrants first came to the Pacific Northwest in the 1850s, and by the 1860s some had settled in Seattle. The first Chinese quarters were near Yesler's Mill on the waterfront. In 1886 whites drove out Seattle's Chinese population and the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 further hindered the community. Eventually the Chinese established their new quarters further inland along Washington St. Japanese immigrants also began to arrive, settling in the south side of the district; the part of present-day Dearborn Street between 8th and 12th Streets was known as Mikado Street, after the Japanese word for "emperor."[5] Japanese Americans developed Nihonmachi, or Japantown, on Main Street, two blocks north of King Street. By the mid-1920s, Nihonmachi extended from 4th Avenue along Main to 7th Avenue, with clusters of businesses along Jackson, King, Weller, Lane, and Dearborn streets.[6]

20th century[edit]

China Gate restaurant, originally built in 1924 as China Garden to house a Peking Opera company.

By the early 1900s a new Chinatown on King Street began to develop. In 1910 Goon Dip, a prominent businessman in Seattle's Chinese American community,[7] led a group of Chinese Americans to form the Kong Yick Investment Company, a benefit society. Their money and efforts led to the construction of two buildings—the East Kong Yick Building and the West Kong Yick Building—intended to serve as the anchor of a "new" Chinatown.[citation needed] Meanwhile, Filipino Americans settled some of the neighborhood's hotels and boarding houses beginning in the early 1900s, attracted by opportunities to work as contract laborers in agriculture and salmon canneries.[8][9] Among them was Filipino author Carlos Bulosan who wrote of his experiences in America Is In The Heart.[10]

In the 1940s the federal government forcibly detained people of Japanese ancestry in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Authorities moved them to internment camps where they lived from 1942 to 1946. Most of Seattle's Japanese residents went to Minidoka in Idaho.[11] After the war, many returned to the Pacific Northwest but relocated to the suburbs or other districts in Seattle. One remaining vestige of the old community is the office of the North American Post, a Japanese-language newspaper founded in 1902. African Americans moved to the district from across the country to work in the war industry during World War II, occupying many of the houses left vacant due to the internment of the Japanese.

Many neighborhood buildings were destroyed for the construction of Interstate 5 in the 1960s. In the 1970s, organizations devoted to the preservation of the International District were founded, some in response to the 1975 construction of the Kingdome on land that was intended for use as low-income housing. The International Examiner, a community newspaper, was founded in the district in 1974.

In the late 1970s and the 1980s, a new wave of immigrants from Southeast Asia established Seattle's Little Saigon in the district. Many of these immigrants were of Chinese descent.

Looking east on S. King Street in the International District, seen (January 2008) through the new "Historic" Chinatown Gate.

The worst mass murder in the history of Seattle took place at the Wah Mee Club on Maynard Alley on February 18, 1983. Thirteen people lost their lives.

In 1986, the International District gained federal status as the "Seattle Chinatown Historic District";[12] that was the same year that the Wing Luke Asian Museum moved to 7th Avenue, a location it would occupy for two decades. In 1999, the City Council approved the "Chinatown-International District Strategic Plan" for the future of the neighborhood. Since then, the often conflicting interests of development and preservation have clashed as office developments (e.g., Union Station) and market-rate housing development (e.g., Uwajimaya Village) offer economic growth but threaten to change the character of the neighborhood and increase gentrification and rents. A debate over the vacation of S. Lane Street as part of the Uwajimaya redevelopment is an example of this clash.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  2. ^ "Seattle Neighborhoods: International District". Retrieved 2011-05-22. 
  3. ^ "History - Celebrating the Diverse Cultures of Asia". Seattle Chinatown / International District. Retrieved 2011-05-22. 
  4. ^ "Seattle’s Chinatown - International District". Retrieved 2011-05-22. 
  5. ^ Lei, Owen (July 17, 2011). "Seattle man champions changing a century-old street name". KING-TV. Retrieved 2011-07-17. City ordinance 4044, enacted Dec. 23, 1895, changed Mikado to Dearborn as part of a city-wide plan to standardize street names in a booming urban area. Section 276 of the bill stated, 'That the names of Alaska Street, Mikado Street, Modjeska Street, Cullen Street, Florence Street and Duke Street, from Elliott Bay to Lake Washington, be and the same are changed to Dearborn Street.' 
  6. ^ Takami, David A. (1998), Divided Destiny: A History of Japanese Americans in Seattle, United States: University of Washington Press, p. 29, ISBN 0-295-97762-0 
  7. ^ "Seattle's Chinatown/International District". Wing Luke Museum. Retrieved October 15, 2007. 
  8. ^ Cynthia Mejia-Giudici, Filipino Cannery Workers, HistoryLink Essay 411, HistoryLink, 3 December 1998. Accessed 4 January 2012.
  9. ^ Filipino Cannery Unionism Across Three Generations 1930s-1980s, Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, University of Washington. Accessed 4 January 2012.
  10. ^ Cynthia Mejia-Giudici, Bulosan, Carlos (1911?-1956), Writer, HistoryLink Essay 5202, HistoryLink, 14 February 2003. Accessed 4 January 2012.
  11. ^ Japanese American Internment during World War II, Friends of Minidoka. Accessed 4 January 2012.
  12. ^ Turkiya L. Lowe, Quintard Taylor, [ Recommendations for National Register Designation of Properties Associated With Civil Rights in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington], submitted to National Park Service. p. 13 of PDF (entry on Rainier Heat and Power Company). Accessed 4 January 2012.
  13. ^ Jacklet, Ben (July 15, 1999). "The Great Mall of Chinatown". The Stranger. Retrieved 2011-07-17. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 47°35′51″N 122°19′15″W / 47.59750°N 122.32083°W / 47.59750; -122.32083