The International District of Seattle, Washington (also known as Chinatown and the I.D.) has been called the only place in the continental United States where Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Filipino Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Korean Americans, Laotian Americans, Cambodian 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 is generally viewed as encompassing 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. Its main thoroughfares are 12th Avenue S. (north- and southbound) and S. Jackson Street (east- and westbound).
Hing Hay Park, at the corner of S. King Street and Maynard Avenue S., is considered a hub of 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/Danny Woo Garden, on the steep slope between I-5 and S. Main Street, is another important site, where many neighborhood residents have urban gardens.
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 Amazon.com's operations.
After racial discrimination drove many Chinese Americans out of Seattle and the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 destroyed what was left of Chinatown, the Chinese Americans remaining in Seattle established a new Chinatown on King Street. This Chinatown is at the center of today's International District.
Second to arrive were the Japanese. They developed Nihonmachi, or Japantown, on Main Street, two blocks north of King Street. They were forcibly detained during Japanese American internment from 1942 to 1946.
After the arrival of the Japanese, Filipinos settled the neighborhood's many hotels and boarding houses. African Americans moved to the district to work in the war industry during World War II, occupying many of the houses that the Japanese had left. African Americans dramatically impacted Seattle's jazz scene.
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. These numbers allegedly undercount Chinese Americans in the district who are said to be afraid of the government and thus don't participate in census counts.
Development and Preservation
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.
Official International District Website
Seattle Chinatown/International District Guide