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Columbia City Shopping DistrictAbout the Southeast Seattle History Project

What is special about the history of Southeast Seattle?  A lot, it turns out. 

Southeast Seattle is widely known for its ethnic diversity and vibrant immigrant communities, and this characterization was just as true a hundred years ago as it is today.  Historians and preservationists usually look back fifty years to understand patterns of community development and to identify places of cultural significance that should be preserved as landmarks.  But if we look back fifty years in Southeast Seattle without considering recent decades, and if we just look at places that might meet the criteria for designation as City of Seattle Landmarks, we miss too many of the community’s stories. 

The goal of the Southeast Seattle History Project is to combine traditional historic preservation methods, like survey and inventory of historic sites, with community-based research to identify the people, places, events and policies that shaped the post World War II era in this part of the city. 

Southeast Seattle

For this project, Southeast Seattle is defined as the area bounded by I-90 to the north, Lake Washington to the east, the city limits to the south, and I-5 to the west.  Included within this area are the neighborhoods of Beacon Hill, Mount Baker, Rainier Valley, Seward Park, and Rainier Beach, and within these neighborhoods are many smaller business districts such as Columbia City and Hillman City, residential enclaves such as Pritchard Island and Lockmore, and historic neighborhoods such as Maple Hill and Brighton.  Place names past and present were documented as part of the Southeast Seattle History Project. 


One of the ways to understand ethnic and cultural diversity in Southeast Seattle is to consider the languages spoken by local residents.  According to the Seattle School District, students in Southeast Seattle speak more than 50 languages at home, in addition to English.  Some of the materials created through the Southeast Seattle History Project, including the poster series and Historylink’s Seattle-Map app, have been translated into four of the most widely used languages – Chinese, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese – in an effort to make local history information accessible to more community members.  Other widely spoken languages in Southeast Seattle include Amharic, Khmer, Lao, Oromo, Tagalog, Tigrinya, and many more. 

Collier Gas Station

The Seattle Historic Preservation Program partnered with four community organizations, El Centro de la Raza, the Northwest African American Museum, the Washington State Jewish Historical Society, and the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, to document experiences in the Latino, African American, Jewish and Asian Pacific American communities in Southeast Seattle. 

Historian Mikala Woodward, affiliated with the Rainier Valley Historical Society, prepared a series of in-depth essays and reference documents that look at Southeast Seattle history through many different lenses.  HistoryLink created a new suite of essays and timelines about Southeast Seattle, and a new Seattle-Map app for android and i-phone devices.  Matsumoto Design created a visual component to the project – a series of posters incorporating historic and contemporary photos from Southeast Seattle.  The Southeast Seattle History Project was managed by Holly Taylor of Past Forward Northwest Cultural Services, and directed by Karen Gordon of the Historic Preservation Program in the Department of Neighborhoods.  


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