National Historic Landmark. National Treasure of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. These accolades are fitting to mark the stature and uniqueness of the Panama Hotel, which in community’s eyes can be summed up by the word “beloved.”
The Panama Hotel was designed by architect Sabro Ozasa, the first Asian American to practice architecture in Seattle. It opened in 1910 in the heart of Japantown at 6th and Main as a five-story “workingman’s” hotel, including a sento (communal public bathhouse) in the basement, ground floor stores, a mezzanine and three floors of guest rooms.
During World War II, owner Takashi Hori provided Japanese American community members a place in the basement to safeguard their belongings as they were forced out of the city. A management company ran the hotel while Hori himself was incarcerated during the War. He returned in 1945 to reclaim the hotel, including the approximately 50 trunks of property held in the basement for others. Attempts to reunite them with their owners proved difficult, as many did not return to Seattle after the War.
In 1985, Jan Johnson bought the hotel from Hori. She too tried to locate the trunks’ original owners. Honoring the families’ and community’s experience, Johnson has preserved the trunks intact all the way to the present-day. A floor window in the ground floor Panama Hotel Tea and Coffee House allows visitors to peer into the basement.
Today you can immerse yourself in Japantown by staying as a guest in the Historic Panama Hotel Bed & Breakfast. Guests stay in the original hotel rooms, furnished with pre-World War II furniture.