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Puget Sound Hotel (#28)

Massive is an apt-word to describe the Puget Sound Hotel. With an impressive 444 rooms, it was once the second largest hotel in town.

Before World War II, the hotel was owned by the Nishimura family. Ritoji Nishimura emigrated from Ehime-ken on Shikoku Island, Japan to work as a farm hand in Seattle. In 1911 Ritoji’s request for a picture bride was answered. He married Kiku in a Christian ceremony in the Mission Church after she arrived. They had six children: Toshimi, Shizuko, Hiromi, Yuki, Toyo and Frank.

Both Ritoji and Kiku were strong business people. Together they bought and sold hotels. Since Japanese nationals were not permitted to purchase land in Washington State by law, a trusted Jewish attorney purchased the property in his name and when oldest son Toshimi came of age, the title was transferred to him.

The Nishimura family lived on the 5th floor of the Puget Sound Hotel. The youngest of the pack, Frank’s childhood wove in and out of sites that now make up the Japanese American Remembrance Trail. A student at Bailey Gatzert (see waypoint #13 for its forerunner Main Street School), after school, like most Japanese children in the area, he headed to the Japanese Language School (see waypoint #35). He remembers Miss Mahon, the Irish principal of Bailey Gatzert School who had a reputation for being strict. But above all, she encouraged her charges to be successful and happy American citizens. Frank was in the last 8th grade class that graduated from Bailey Gatzert in 1938.

Imagine life for Frank coming of age in Seattle. In fall 1938, he started classes at Broadway High School, which is now Seattle Central College. As the youngest, Frank had more advantages than his older brothers and sisters and managed to purchase a used 1937 Plymouth automobile. To make extra money Frank became a newspaper carrier for the Seattle Post Intelligencer. He and his friend Shorty delivered papers in record time using his car. The route was along the Elliot Bay waterfront.

In the summer, Frank drove his friends to Golden Gardens Beach in Ballard and Alki Beach in West Seattle for clamming and picnicking. In the winter, they skied Snoqualmie and Mount Rainier. Every July he and his friends went to the Playland Amusement Park just north of Seattle for the annual Japanese Community Day. Amusement ride discount tickets were distributed throughout Japantown weeks in advance to promote the event. Frank and his friends played the arcade games, rode the roller coaster, big dipper and socialized. Frank’s teen years were carefree and fun. All that changed on December 7, 1941.

Images

Puget Sound Hotel, ca. 1937.

Washington State Archives.

Frank Nishimura was born in Seattle in 1924. He volunteered to join the U.S. Army as part of the 442nd/100th Battalion during World War II. He is pictured here at Camp Shelby in 1943.

Courtesy of Frank Nishimura.

Video

Community Stories: An American Hero – Frank Nishimura. The Seattle Channel. November 11, 2016.

This animated short film tells the story of World War II veteran Frank Nishimura and is based on the graphic novel “Fighting for America: Nisei Soldiers,” written by Lawrence Matsuda and illustrated by Matt Sasaki.