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Cadillac Hotel (#22)

Also known as: Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

Before World War II, Japanese Americans owned and managed as many as 2/3 of all of Seattle’s hotels. The Cadillac Hotel was no exception. It was run by Kamekichi and Haruko Tokita from 1913 until World War II forced their removal and incarceration. Today, the site is the location of the NPS Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park where you can experience the booming growth of Seattle, gateway to Alaskan gold beginning in July 17, 1897 when the steamship Portland brought the first prospectors to Seattle.

As you explore the exhibits, imagine what it would have been like for the Tokita family during this time. Then read on below to find out what happened to them during and after the War. (And be sure to visit the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington (waypoint #35), a key place in their story.)

Images

The building still features a Cadillac Hotel sign.

Alabastro Photography. Courtesy of Wing Luke Museum.

Cadillac Hotel, ca. 1938.

Washington State Archives.

Stories

Tokita Family

“That was a panicked time. There were five of us, and Mom had to take care of all of the family. My father was very worried about the business, and he was trying to sell [it].” – Shokichi “Shox” Tokita

December 7, 1941. News of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan spread fast. Kamekichi and Haruko Tokita – owners of the Cadillac Hotel on 2nd and Jackson – could feel in their gut what that might mean for their family of seven. Selling their business, packing their belongings, girding their family for the uncertainty of living behind barbed wire indefinitely.

“When we first got there and were assigned our rooms, there was about six inches of dust. The windows weren’t insulated at all; it was just a window and cracks were around it so there was dust all over the whole room. Our first job that we were put to work with – [three-year-old] Yuzo and everybody else – was getting that sand out of the room. We didn’t have any tools or anything, so we just had to scoop things around to get all that, and as soon as we finished the wind would start blowing and the sand would start coming in, so my dad – I don’t know where he got the newspapers – just started filling in the cracks so that the sand would stay out. But, even then…” – Shokichi “Shox” Tokita

Living quarters for the 9,700 Japanese held in the Minidoka concentration camp were in barracks – 500 arranged in 44 blocks. Family rooms averaged 16 by 20 feet. The Tokita family lived in Block 38.

“Dad got in touch with Father Tibesar. Father Tibesar’s the one who took care of us, both before the war and after the war…. As it turns out, when we got back, Father Tibesar picked us up at the train station, took us right to the Japanese Language School and then we went up to the room that we were assigned to. It was a one room apartment. So here we are this time, there’s no sand in the room and there were army cots there, and he set us up; the room was exactly the way it was in camp. Parallel beds like this, mom and dad slept here, I was there in the back corner and Yoshiko was right across the aisle from me. That was exactly how we were arranged in camp. It was almost the same.” – Shokichi “Shox” Tokita

Since the family was forced to sell the Cadillac Hotel – their business and home – before the war, they had nowhere to return to after being released from the Minidoka concentration camp. They found refuge at the Japanese Language School, known as the “Hunt Hotel.”

“My mother had the strength and will to raise the eight of us, sending all of us to Catholic grade schools and five to Catholic high schools, while expanding the business to include two other small hotels. We all worked ever since we could start delivering newspapers and gave her all our earnings. It’s a virtual impossibility to relate the trials she must have gone through to do so. I wonder how many nights I awakened her as she slept slumped over her bookkeeping at the kitchen table; I wonder how much easier it could have been for her had her husband, my father, lived another five years?” – Shokichi “Shox” Tokita

The family arrived at the Japanese Language School in fall 1945. They stayed there until late summer 1947, when they moved to the New Lucky Hotel on Maynard and Weller, and entered the hotel management business once again. Tragically, father Kamekichi passed away in 1948, leaving mother Haruko widowed with eight kids to feed and $56 in her purse. Thankfully, she was long familiar with running a hotel and able to continue on with the family business.

The Tokita family relaxes at Alki beach in West Seattle, 1941. Little did they know then how radically their life would change in just one year. The children (from left to right) are: Yasuo, Shizuko, Yuzo, Yoshiko and Shokichi.

Father Leopold Tibesar and Maryknoll Sisters with students, including Shokichi “Shox” Tokita first row, second from right), 1941.

The Tokita family – now a family of ten – at Minidoka concentration camp.

Haruko with children, late 1948. Back row (left to right): Yaeko, held by Haruko, Shizuko, Shokichi; front row: Goro, Yasuo, Yuzo, Masao and Yoshiko.