International Special Review District

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Election Information: Voter Registration FormEmployee Verification Form | Election Procedures

Information regarding the expansion of the ISRD boundaries in Little Saigon: English | Vietnamese/Tiếng Việt | Simplified Chinese/普通话 | Traditional Chinese/廣東話

Frequently asked questions about the ISRD expansion: English | Vietnamese/Tiếng Việt | Simplified Chinese/普通话 | Traditional Chinese/廣東話

The International Special Review District is one of Seattle's eight historic districts. It is a collection of early 20th-century commercial and hotel buildings that serves as the center of Seattle's diverse Asian American community.

The District was established by the City of Seattle through an ordinance in 1973 to preserve the District's unique Asian American character and to encourage rehabilitation of areas for housing and pedestrian-oriented businesses. The Seattle Chinatown National Register Historic District is located within the International Special Review District. Its listing on the National Register testifies to the important contributions of the Chinatown/International District area on a national level.

History of the International District
(From the "Walking Tour of the International District in Seattle" written by the Wing Luke Asian Museum, with added text by the City of Seattle.)

Seattle's International District, a neighborhood nestled south of downtown, is the cultural hub of the Asian American community and home of the city's Chinatown. It rose not far from the waterfront, on reclaimed tide flats.

During a gigantic city re-grading project, completed in 1910, this muddy wasteland was filled in with earth, buildings were erected and the International District was born.

It is the only area in the continental United States where Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, African Americans and Vietnamese settled together and built one neighborhood.

In the beginning, sojourners from Asia -- mostly single men -- came by steamship and rail into the new port city, seeking refuge from poverty and war. They crowded into hotels, storefronts and employment halls which emerged near the railroad station and waterfront.

These men came when the city was young, and worked in the gambling places, laundries, hotels, restaurants, shops and canneries. They lived frugally, finding comfort in familiar surroundings, shrouded from the harsh discrimination outside. Later, when the laws permitted, they brought wives and relatives to make permanent their stake here.

First, the Chinese built Chinatown, anchored along King Street. a gathering point, marketplace and home for laborers from the villages. An earlier Chinatown located near Second Avenue and South Washington Street, had been pushed aside by a major street extension in the 1920s.

The Japanese developed a NihoMachi or Japantown near Main Street, just north of the new Chinatown. The Japanese businesses -- restaurants, bathhouses, laundries, dry goods stores and markets -- vanished when their owners were herded off to internment camps during World War II. The Filipinos, the third Asian group to arrive, found their way into area hotels, seeking connections for work in the canneries. Some operated cafes, pool halls, barbershops and other small businesses. African Americans also settled in the area, establishing diners, groceries, taverns, tailor shops and nightclubs. For many years, Seattle's after-hours jazz scene thrived on Jackson Street.

After immigration quotas opened up in 1965, new Chinese arrivals, including families, began to repopulate area hotels. But the decision to build the Kingdome on the western edge of the District, coupled with the construction of the Interstate 5 freeway, created a threat to the area's survival. By the early 1970s, over half of the area's deteriorating hotels had shut down, and many longtime businesses had moved out of the area. During this time, young Chinese, Japanese and Filipino student activists, rallying under the banner of Asian American unity, led a fight to reclaim the area. They lobbied for low-income housing, set up bilingual social service programs, and formed a public corporation to preserve and renovate historic buildings.

In 1973 the International Special Review District and Board were established by Ordinance (SMC 23.66.302) to promote, preserve and perpetuate the cultural, economic, historical, and otherwise beneficial qualities of the area, particularly the features derived from its Asian heritage.

College-educated Asian American professionals --lawyers, accountants, doctors, dentists and social workers --set up offices in the former haunts of their parents and grandparents.

With public funds, hotels and streets were refurbished, new senior apartments were erected, and community-based service centers were established. In the 1980s, refugees from Vietnam opened restaurants, markets, and clothing and jewelry stores. Many set up shop in old buildings and newly constructed malls near 12th Avenue and South Jackson Street, forming a Little Saigon neighborhood. Others opened in storefronts in the core of the International District. With the expansion of business activity, the eastern boundary of the District moved beyond the freeway.

Continuing waves of immigrants from all over Asia have helped keep the District alive along with the individuals and organizations that have historically been committed to the neighborhood's welfare. Seattle's building boom of the 1990s has not left the District untouched. The decade brought significant change to the physical development of the neighborhood. The Kingdome was demolished to make way for two new stadia. The area near Union Station has been developed for office and commercial uses. Large scale development projects (institutional, housing, retail, and mixed-use) have occurred throughout the District. Several buildings have been rehabilitated and put back into productive use, providing low-income housing.

Even with the new growth and changes, the District remains as one of the few ethnic neighborhoods in Seattle. An old community --bustling with history and culture -continues to survive into the next generation.

2019 Agendas and Minutes

2019 Schedule

January 8, 2019 Agenda |

January 22, 2019 Agenda |

February 12, 2019 Cancellation Notice

February 26, 2019 Agenda |

March 12, 2019 Agenda |

March 26, 2019 Agenda |

April 9, 2019 Cancellation Notice

April 23, 2019 Agenda |

May 14, 2019 Agenda |

May 28, 2019 Agenda |

2018 Agendas and Minutes

2018 Schedule

February 15, 2018 Public Notice for Special Work Session

January 9, 2018 Agenda | January 9, 2018 Minutes

January 23, 2018 Cancellation Notice

February 13, 2018 Agenda | February 13, 2018 Minutes

February 27, 2018 Agenda | February 27, 2018 Minutes

March 13, 2018 Agenda | March 13, 2018 Minutes

March 27, 2018 Agenda | March 27, 2018 Minutes

March 29, 2018 Public Notice for Special Work Session

April 10, 2018 Agenda | April 10, 2018 Minutes

April 24, 2018 AgendaApril 24, 2018 Minutes

April 25, 2018 Public Notice for Special Work Session

May 8, 2018 AgendaMay 8, 2018 Minutes

May 22, 2018 Agenda | May 22, 2018 Minutes

May 24, 2018 Public Notice for Special Work Session

June 12, 2018 Agenda | June 12, 2018 Minutes

June 26, 2018 Agenda | June 26, 2018 Minutes

June 28, 2018 Public Notice for Special Work Session |

July 10, 2018 Agenda | July 10, 2018 Minutes

July 24, 2018 Agenda | July 24, 2018 Minutes

August 1, 2018 Public Notice for Special Work Session

August 14, 2018 Agenda | August 14, 2018 Minutes

August 20, 2018 Public Notice for Special Work Session

August 28, 2018 Agenda | August 28, 2018 Minutes

September 11, 2018 AgendaSeptember 11, 2018 Minutes

September 25, 2018 Agenda | September 25, 2018 Minutes

October 9, 2018 Agenda | October 9, 2018 Minutes

October 23, 2018 Agenda | October 23, 2018 Minutes

November 13, 2018 Agenda | November 13, 2018 Minutes

November 27, 2018 Agenda |

December 11, 2018 Agenda |

2017 Agendas and Minutes

2017 Meeting Schedule

January 10, 2017 Agenda | January 10, 2017 Minutes

January 24, 2017 Agenda | January 24, 2017 Minutes

February 14, 2017 Agenda | February 14, 2017 Minutes

February 28, 2017 Agenda | February 28, 2017 Minutes

March 14, 2017 Agenda | March 14, 2017 Minutes

March 28, 2017 Agenda | March 28, 2017 Minutes

April 11, 2017 Agenda | April 11, 2017 Minutes

April 25, 2017 AgendaApril 25, 2017 Minutes

May 9, 2017 Agenda | May 9, 2017 Minutes

May 23, 2017 Agenda | May 23, 2017 Minutes

June 13, 2017 Agenda | June 13, 2017 Minutes

June 27, 2017 Agenda | June 27, 2017 Minutes

July 11, 2017 Agenda | July 11, 2017 Minutes

July 25, 2017 Cancellation Notice

August 8 2017 Agenda | August 8, 2017 Minutes

August 22, 2017 Agenda | August 22, 2017 Minutes

September 12, 2017 Agenda | September 12, 2017 Minutes

September 26, 2017 Agenda | September 26, 2017 MInutes

October 10, 2017 Agenda | October 10, 2017 Minutes

October 24, 2017 Agenda | October 24, 2017 Minutes

November 14, 2017 Agenda | November 14, 2017 Minutes

November 28, 2017 Agenda | November 28, 2017 Minutes

December 13, 2017 Cancellation Notice

2016 Agendas and Minutes

January 12, 2016 Agenda | January 12, 2016 Minutes

January 26, 2016 Agenda | January 26, 2016 Minutes

February 9, 2016 Agenda | February 9, 2016 Minutes

February 23, 2016 Agenda | February 23, 2016 Minutes

March 8, 2016 Agenda | March 8, 2016 Minutes

March 22, 2016 Agenda | March 22, 2016 Minutes

April 12, 2016 Agenda | April 12, 2016 Minutes

April 26, 2016 Agenda | April 26, 2016 Minutes

May 10, 2016 Agenda | May 10, 2016 Minutes

May 24, 2016 Agenda | May 24, 2016 Minutes

June 14, 2016 Agenda | June 14, 2016 Minutes

June 21, 2016 Agenda - Special Work Session

June 28, 2016 Agenda | June 28, 2016 Minutes

July 12, 2016 Agenda | June 12, 2016 Minutes

July 26, 2016 Agenda | July 26, 2016 Minutes

August 9, 2016 Agenda | August 9, 2016 Minutes

August 23, 2016 Agenda | August 23, 2016 Minutes

September 13, 2016 Agenda | September 13, 2016 Minutes

September 27, 2016 Agenda | September 27, 2016 Minutes

October 11, 2016 Cancellation Notice

October 25, 2016 Agenda | October 25, 2016 Minutes

November 8, 2016 Agenda | November 8, 2016 Minutes

November 22, 2016 Agenda | November 22, 2016 Minutes

December 13, 2016 Agenda | December 13, 2016 Minutes

2015 Agendas and Minutes

January 13, 2015 Agenda | January 13, 2015 Minutes

January 27, 2015 Agenda | January 27, 2015 Minutes

February 10, 2015 Cancellation Notice

February 24, 2015 AgendaFebruary 24, 2015 Minutes

March 10, 2015 Agenda | March 10, 2015 Minutes

March 24, 2015 Agenda | March 24, 2015 Minutes

April 14, 2015 Agenda | April 14, 2015 Minutes

April 28, 2015 Cancellation Notice

May 12, 2015 Agenda | May 12, 2015 Minutes

May 26, 2015 Agenda | May 26, 2015 Minutes

June 9, 2015 Agenda | June 9, 2015 Minutes

June 23, 2015 Cancellation Notice

July 14, 2015 Cancellation Notice

July 28, 2015 Agenda | July 28, 2015 Minutes

August 11, 2015 Agenda | August 11, 2015 Minutes

August 25, 2015 Agenda | August 25, 2015 Minutes

September 8, 2015 Agenda | September 8, 2015 Minutes

September 22, 2015 Agenda | September 22, 2015 Minutes

October 13, 2015 Agenda | October 13, 2015 Minutes

October 27, 2015 Agenda | October 27, 2015 Minutes

November 10, 2015 Agenda | November 10, 2015 Minutes

November 24, 2015 Agenda | November 24, 2015 Minutes

December 8, 2015 Agenda | December 8, 2015 Minutes

International Special Review District Agendas and Minutes prior to 2015

District boundary of International Special Review District :

Map of District boundary of International District

Making Changes to a building in the International Special Review District

What must be reviewed and approved by the Board?

The following changes require a Certificate of Approval to be issued by the Board and the Director of the Department of Neighborhoods before the City will issue any permits:

  • Any change to the outside of any building or structure.
  • Installation of any new sign or change to any existing sign.
  • Installation of a new awning or canopy.
  • Any change to an interior that affects the exterior.
  • New addition, construction, and/or remodel.
  • A proposed new business or service (change of use).
  • Any change in a public right-of-way or other public spaces, including parks and sidewalks.
  • Demolition of any building or structure.
  • Exterior painting

Making changes to International District

To apply for a Certificate of Approval, please follow the instructions on this form:

1. What is the International Special Review District Board?

The Board consists of seven members, five that are elected by the community in annual elections and two that are appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by City Council. Two of the five elected Board members own property or a business in the District or who are employed in the District, two of the elected members reside in the District or have demonstrated an interest in the District, and one member is elected at large. The Board reviews applications for Certificates of Approval for any change to the use, exterior appearance of buildings or structures, streets, sidewalks, and other public spaces in the District.

2. What Must Be Reviewed and Approved By the Board?

The following changes require a Certificate of Approval to be issued by the Board and the Director of the Department of Neighborhoods before the City will issue any permits:

  • Any change to the outside of any building or structure
  • Installation of any new sign or changes to existing sign
  • Installation of a new awning or canopy
  • Any change to an interior that affects the exterior
  • New addition, construction and/or remodel
  • A proposed new business or service (change of use)
  • Any change in the public right-of-way or other public spaces, including parks and sidewalks
  • Demolition of any building or structure
  • Exterior painting

3. When are the Board Meetings?

Meetings are held on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at 4:30 p.m. at the Bush Asia Hotel, 409 Maynard Avenue South. All Board meetings are open to the public.

4. What is a Certificate of Approval?

A Certificate of Approval is an official notice of approval issued by the International Special Review District Board. To get your project reviewed and approved, a completed Application for Certificate Approval needs to be submitted to the Landmark District Coordinator.A Certificate of Approval is not a permit. An applicant is still responsible for obtaining relevant permits after receiving approval from the Review Committee and Board. City Departments such as Seattle Transportation and Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) issue permits after an applicant has received a Certificate of Approval.

5. What is the Approval Process?

Step 1: Submit a completed application and the appropriate fee to the Historic Preservation Program.

Step 2: The Board Coordinator will review the application and plans for completeness and compliance with the regulations.

Step 3: After your application is determined to be complete, it will be placed on the agenda for the next public meeting of the Board.

Step 4: The Board will recommend to the Director of the Department of Neighborhoods whether to approve, approve with conditions, or deny the application.

Step 5: The Director of the Department of Neighborhoods makes the final decision whether to approve, approve with conditions or deny your application.

Step 6: Either a Certificate of Approval or a Letter of Denial will be issued.

Step 7: You or any interested party of record may appeal a decision to the City Hearing Examiner within 14 days of the issuance of the Certificate of Approval or Letter of Denial.

6. How Do I Schedule for Board Review?

If you are considering starting a new business or service, changing the location of your business (within the District) or making physical changes to the outside of your property or business, please contact the International Special Review District Board Coordinator, (206) 684-0226, for assistance in reviewing your plans and in scheduling for Board consideration.