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Wing Luke Museum (#1)

Also known as: East Kong Yick Building; Freeman Hotel

We connect everyone to the dynamic history, cultures, and art of Asian Pacific Americans through vivid storytelling and inspiring experiences to advance racial and social equity.” – Wing Luke Museum

As a National Park Service Affiliated Area and the first Smithsonian affiliate in the Pacific Northwest, the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience offers an authentic and unique perspective on the American story. Nationally recognized for its work in creating dynamic, community-driven exhibitions and programs, the Wing Luke Museum puts community at the heart of each exhibition it creates. The stories you see and hear within its walls are their authentic experiences and perspectives. From the struggles of early Asian pioneers to accomplished works by national Asian Pacific American artists, their contributions give us a look at what it means to be uniquely American.

The Museum has made its home in the Chinatown-International District for over 50 years. It opened at this current location in 2008. The Wing Luke Museum purchased the East Kong Yick Building from the Kong Yick Investment Company in 2003. The Kong Yick Investment Company built the East Kong Yick Building from 1910-1912 as the new core of Chinatown. The building housed import-export stores, social gathering places, single room apartments in its upper story hotel and family apartments along 8th Avenue and Canton Alley. The hotel, with address 719 ½ S King St, was known as the Freeman Hotel. Records show that a Japanese American managed the hotel for the Kong Yick Investment Company after World War II.

The Wing Luke Museum’s 60,000 square foot facility offers three floors to tell community stories, with contemporary galleries showcasing both temporary and permanent exhibitions as well as preserved historic spaces accessible only through daily guided tours. The Nippon Kan scrim is on permanent display within the Museum’s Tateuchi Story Theatre.

Beyond its walls, the Museum likes to tell the story of the neighborhood, Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. From restaurants to statues that you might not otherwise notice, there are layers of history and significance that are waiting to be uncovered. The Wing Luke Museum offers guided neighborhood tours and events — including along the Japanese American Remembrance Trail — that will encourage you to discover stories and tastes both on- and off-the-beaten path.

Images

The Wing Luke Museum rehabilitated the East Kong Yick Building in 2008.

Photo by Otto Greule. Courtesy of Wing Luke Museum.

The fan awning above the Main Entry was created by sculptor Gerard Tsutakawa.

Alabastro Photography. Courtesy of Wing Luke Museum.

The door pulls of the Main Entry were created in bronze by sculptor Gerard Tsutakawa. Their patina is enriched by the hands of each visitor who opens the doors.

Alabastro Photography. Courtesy of Wing Luke Museum.

The hotel manager’s room can be visited on guided tour. Before World War II, over 2/3 of all hotels in Seattle were operated by Japanese Americans.

Alabastro Photography. Courtesy of Wing Luke Museum.

Stories

Nippon Kan Scrim

“It was a good way for my mother to have me go for [dance] lessons during the time when she was busy… Although I was only about three years old, they at least give you the basics. I remember sitting there, and you have to sit on your feet which is very uncomfortable… They would just teach me a few words to be able to say at the beginning. Because I was three years old, you know, there is just so much you can learn…. And they would dress me up with the costumes, and then usually I played a boy’s role. You just sit there and do things. You just copy what the other people did…. [For the photograph] I’m sure I was just dressed and posed for advertising purposes because I don’t remember being that young and in a play that had anything to do with all that.” – May Sasaki

Built in 1909, the Nippon Kan (waypoint #17) soon became the cultural center for Seattle’s Japanese American community. The stage hosted international stars of traditional Japanese theater performances, along with local dance groups. The hall was filled with social gatherings marked by noisy children running down the aisles and with formal, quiet performances that held audiences still in their seats, hanging on a dancer’s every move.

Since May Sasaki was so young, she mostly stayed on the side stage (hanamichi) of the Nippon Kan. This narrow stage that leads to the main stage allowed for a lot of performers to be on stage – with the main characters in the central stage and lesser characters lined up on the side stage.

Over 100 years later the theatre’s original curtain now hangs in the Wing Luke Museum’s Tateuchi Story Theatre. Painted with advertisements of community businesses from earlier times, it is a precious visual history of the community.

The Nippon Kan Scrim hangs in the Museum’s Tateuchi Story Theatre.

Detail of the Nippon Kan Scrim.

May Sasaki (right) poses for the camera.