The architecture of the International District documents Asian immigrants' attempts to create a culture that blends both Asian and American traditions. Among the city's earliest residents were the Chinese immigrants who provided the cheap labor that helped make the first sawmills profitable. These workers lived in a segregated neighborhood along Seattle's swampy coastline in buildings that rested on stilts. After the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 destroyed the original Chinatown neighborhood, Chinese merchants moved east towards the area now known as the International District. Over the next 20 years, Japanese immigrants, not covered by American immigration quotas, became Seattle's largest Asian population. While the Chinese populations suffered discrimination through quotas, deportations and the notorious "exclusion acts," Japanese immigrants were able to live relatively freely, and were able to establish very profitable companies, despite some early difficulties.
Things changed in the 1920s as new restrictions prohibited Japanese residents from becoming citizens or owning farms. During World War II Japanese-Americans were sent to Camp Harmony, an internment camp, or to Idaho. Many of their vacant homes and businesses were taken over for use as major public housing projects and parking lots. In the 1960s, highway construction and urban renewal also took its toll on the cultures and architecture of the area. Many buildings still stand, however, and illustrate how Asian traditions were combined with Western architecture. An excellent example of this merging appears in the second and third-floor tile-roofed balconies, typical in south China, that were appended to typically Western two- and three-story brick buildings. Throughout the International District are similar indications of people whose architecture and lives have combined two markedly different traditions to create a vibrantly diverse community
The International District is roughly bounded by Main and Jackson sts. on the North, Weller St. on the south, Fifth Ave. on the west, and I-5 on the east. The International District is largely commercial and open to the public during regular business houres. For more information call 206-382-1197 or visit their website.
Kong Yick Apartments, built 1910
Photograph by L. Garfield
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