Bush Hotel and Hing Hay Park, Seattle, March 11, 2018, Photo by Joe Mabel (CC BY-SA 4.0)
China Gate Restaurant, Seattle, January 18, 2007, Photo by Joe Mabel (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Former Japanese Baptist Church with building built under it, 672 S Jackson St, Seattle, October 15, 2020, HistoryLink photo by David Koch
Japanese Church not lowered after regrade, February 1910, photo from Washington State Historical Society
Jackson Street regrade, Seattle, ca. 1908, Courtesy MOHAI (1983.10.8131)
Oregon-Washington Railroad and Navigation Company depot (now Union Station), Seattle, Washington, March 29, 1911

Chinatown-International District

by Marie Rose Wong, PhD
Listen (English Only)

Seattle’s Chinatown-International District (CID) is a unique multicultural neighborhood. Unlike other U.S. cities, the Asian American community in Seattle occupies a shared geography, where immigrant groups settled with and among one another. In addition to Asian Americans, who now comprise about 60 percent of the district’s population, the neighborhood was settled with Northern, Eastern, and Western Europeans, and Black and Native Americans. Chinese immigrants began settling in lower downtown Seattle in the 1860s, followed by successive waves of Japanese (1890s), Filipino (1910s), and Southeast Asians (1970s). The resulting neighborhood is one that is distinctive in cultural placemaking and cohesive in that the residents and businesses share a common vision of celebrating, protecting, and supporting the neighborhood.

Early Chinese and Japanese settlement was originally located in the northeast corner of the Pioneer Square neighborhood, moving to its current location beginning in 1910. The relocation became a necessity because of urban redevelopment and public works projects that included the construction of the Union and King Street stations, and the Jackson Street Regrade project. Seattle’s CID was built in an area the city had designated in 1892 as a location for illegal and unseemly land uses that included dance halls, gambling and bottle clubs, and sex-worker establishments. For its new Asian American residents, it was a place of home and commercial businesses, many of which were storefronts in residential hotel buildings with spare living quarters in back or upstairs.

Federal laws that restricted Asian immigration and naturalization also prevented them from citizenship and the right to own land and property. Circumventing discriminatory laws was done by purchasing land through the formation of corporate partnerships in which the corporation was the legal owner. Many buildings in the CID core reflect this type of ownership, with two building types emerging — low-rise commercial buildings, and single-room occupancy (SRO) residential hotels that met the demand for affordable central city housing for a population that was comprised primarily of male laborers. In American Chinatowns, Japantowns, and Filipino communities, SROs provided the stage for cultural activity and built expression of an immigrant population. SRO rooms provided a home to transient workers who left for seasonal jobs in canneries, railroad construction and maintenance, lumber industries, and farms, and then returned to live in the CID during the off-season.

The CID is one of eight Seattle neighborhoods to be designated an historic district. As such, any proposed change or addition to this area, which includes anything from color to structural change, is reviewed by city staff and also by a citizen advisory board comprised of people who live, work, or own property in the neighborhood. Within the historic district there is an additional layer of designation by the National Register of Historic Places, which acknowledges the core of single-room occupancy residential buildings and commercial structures. Public art and symbolism, and community resilience and strength are reflected in these buildings and the spaces that help define them. Cultural street signs, murals, statues, landscaping, and the sights, smells, and sounds of ethnic foods combine as testaments to the people who built and are vested in this multicultural neighborhood.

This tour visits the core areas and landmarks of the CID’s Chinatown, Japantown (Nihonmachi), Filipino Town, and Little Saigon.

Tour Stops


Alki Hotel

200 5th Avenue S

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Intersection of 6th and Main

6th Avenue S and S Main Street

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Higo Ten-Cent Store

604 S Jackson Street

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C&T Building

316 Maynard Avenue S

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Bush Hotel

621 S Jackson Street

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Hing Hay Park and the residential hotel core

Intersection of Maynard Avenue S and S King Street

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Filipino American kiosk

Southwest corner, 6th Avenue S and S King Street

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Chinatown Gate

5th Avenue S and S King Street

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Publix Hotel

504 5th Avenue S

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Eastern Hotel

506 Maynard Avenue S

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King Street landmarks

S King Street between 6th Avenue S and 8th Avenue S

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Viet Wah Grocery

1032 S Jackson Street

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Nisei Vets Hall

1212 S King Street

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Pho Bac Restaurant

1314 S Jackson Street

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This tour made possible by generous support from

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