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International District
Uwajimaya Village

The International District of Seattle, Washington (also known as Chinatown and the I.D.) may be the only place in the continental United States where Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Filipino Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Korean Americans,Thai Americans, Laotian Americans, Cambodian Americans, Burmese Americans, and other Asian Americans live in one neighborhood. 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 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 main thoroughfares in Chinatown are South Jackson Street and South King Street (east- and westbound); and the prominent thoroughfare in Little Saigon is 12th Avenue South (north- and southbound) intersecting at South Jackson Street.

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.

Perhaps the neighborhood's most notable establishment is the Asian supermarket Uwajimaya. Across Fifth Avenue from Uwajimaya Village is the Union Station office complex, built where abandoned Union Pacific Railroad tracks once ran, and home to much of's operations.



Chinese New Year 2007: Lion dancers in the firecracker smoke

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. By the early 1900s a new Chinatown on King Street began to develop. This Chinatown is at the center of today's International District.

Japanese immigrants began to arrive in the 1890s. They 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.[1] In the 1940s there was a thriving community including many businesses until the US 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. 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.

Filipinos also settled the neighborhood's many hotels and boarding houses beginning in the early 1900s, attracted by opportunities to work as contract laborers in agriculture and salmon canneries. Among them was Filipino author Carlos Bulosan who wrote of his experiences in America Is In The Heart.

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 interment of the Japanese.

After the Vietnam War, 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.

According to the 2000 Census, the International District is 56% Asian, 15% black, 15% white, and 5% Hispanic/Latino.

Development and preservation

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

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. In 1987, the International District gained federal status as the "Seattle Chinatown Historic District." In 1999, the City Council approved the "Chinatown-International District Strategic Plan" for the future of the neighbourhood. 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.[2]

Wah Mee massacre

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.

See also


  • Bob Santos, Humbows, Not Hot Dogs!: Memoirs of a Savvy Asian American Activist. Seattle: International Examiner Press, 2002.
  1. ^ Takami, David A. (1998), Divided Destiny: A History of Japanese Americans in Seattle, United States: University of Washington Press, p. 29, ISBN 0295977620  
  2. ^

External links

Coordinates: 47°35′51″N 122°19′15″W / 47.5975°N 122.32083°W / 47.5975; -122.32083

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