On a recent trip to Seattle, in lightly falling snow, I took a guided walking tour of the city’s mid-19th century “underground” origins: its musty subterranean passageways of abandoned toilets, pipes, cast-off furniture and windows that once were the main first-floor storefronts of old downtown Seattle. Like layers of fossils built one sedimentary deposit over another, the city’s hidden foundations are revealed. Approximately 25 square blocks of wooden buildings were either burned to the ground or flooded during the Great Seattle Fire of 1896. What were once the first floors of thriving businesses are now 25-to-35-feet high tunnels below street level. Pioneer Square, the city’s birthplace, lies virtually forgotten except for this tour. It was very entertaining!
Next I walked to the historic Panama Hotel, located in Old Japantown, part of the International District which also includes Chinatown. Built in 1910 by a Japanese-American architect, the Panama Hotel served as a community gathering place and bathhouse for generations of Japanese immigrants and Alaskan fishermen. I could see rows of lockers where Japanese Americans stored their belongings before being forced into concentration camps. Standing on a glass window on the floor of the hotel’s beautifully renovated teahouse, I peered down into the bathhouse, which was not open to the public the day I visited Jamie Ford, author of the best seller, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, (whose setting is the Panama Hotel) stayed here while writing part of this novel.
My third and final stop for the day was the little-known Wing Luke Museum. Wing Luke, the museum’s visionary founder, had dreamt of a place where the healing power of creativity and art embraced by Asian American communities would flourish in the Pacific Northwest. As not only the first Asian American to hold elected office in the Pacific Northwest but as a supporter of the arts, Wing Luke established this museum to tell a story for all of us. Dedicated to the Asian Pacific and Native American experiences the museum collection share their stories of survival, success, struggle, conflict, compassion and hope. A Smithsonian Affiliate, the museum is in a beautifully designed new building in which the cultural and artistic legacies of people who are either Asian American, Native American or both come together for the first time in an exhibit called “Cultural Confluence.” Heroic art by well-known artists as well as school children is presented, sometimes side-by-side, in original and colorful displays to celebrate life and its unfinished business.