The Eastern Hotel, designated a historical landmark and located in Seattle International District, recently won a distinguished award for affordable housing from the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects. With painstaking detailed preservation of the original building and additional physical improvements, Eastern Hotel is now an affordable, high quality place for low-income workers to live in the ever-inflating costliness of Seattle’s housing market.
As one of the earliest buildings in the International District, Eastern Hotel dates back from 1909 to 1911. Built by David Dow, a prominent contractor in the 1900s, Eastern Hotel was below standard housing with 92 single rooms with only three toilets for every 40 tenants. It is one of the earliest examples of the typical multi-story apartment hotel found in the District and was one of the earliest properties of the Wa Chong Company. The renovation of Eastern Hotel began in 1997, when InterIm Community Development, a non-profit housing developer in the International District, became interested in an upgrading historic building with more spacious units for couples and families. In the process of the renovation project, InterIm relocated the existing businesses in the Hotel and worked with the owners on securing loans that were difficult for them to receive as limited English speakers. Andy Mizuki, director of Project Management at Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDPDA), emphasized the importance of affordable, decent housing for the community. Mizuki said, “Just because you have a low-paying job as a security guard or cook, doesn’t mean you have to live in a dump. You should be able to live in decent housing.” Every effort was made by Robert Hale, the architect of the project, and other community agencies to preserve the beauty and historic nature of the building. For example, much of the woodwork was restored with a high quality finish, the original brick was cleaned, and metal cornices repaired. Because the design of the building was so good, the workers on the renovation project began to compete with each other on the aesthetic quality of their work.
To commemorate the historic nature of the Hotel as a place for laborers, a Carlos Bulosan Memorial Exhibit is on permanent display showing the contributions of Filipino laborers, local union leaders, and others in the social and cultural development of the District. The exhibit was named after Bulosan, a prolific writer and activist, who lived in the Hotel in the 1930s. Various photos and documents of cannery workers and farmers decorated the lobby of the Hotel. Artist Eliseo Art Silva painted an elaborate mural with symbols of Filipino and laborers experiences in Seattle. The mural was made to match the décor of the building. Mizuki described the renovation project as new infrastructure for the District. New sidewalks were made with waterproof membranes and sturdy enough for fire engines to drive on, whereas many sidewalks in the District are hollow and leak water. A new electrical vault was installed to fix the problems with blackouts a few years ago, which interrupted the business of restaurants and stores.
The Hotel houses a cross-section of the population: from newborn babies to the elderly, African and Asian immigrants, Caucasians, females and males. Many of the current tenants are workers in the International District and downtown. Mizuki explained the renovation of the Eastern Hotel boosts the economic activity of the District by providing area businesses with a labor pool of stable workers.
Since the completion of the project in 1998, several tenants were able to move out of the complex into houses of their own. Development agencies such as InterIm and SCIDPDA have brought millions of dollars into the District for capital improvements that help low-income residents and the wider community. Mizuki said, “It is important for people to know why historic structures are important and why we need to keep them in the International District.”
On Sunday, June 11, there will be an open house and reception at the Eastern Hotel, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information call Inter*im at 624-1802.