Last updated: March 23, 2021
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The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in Seattle, Washington is the only community-based museum in the United States dedicated exclusively to the history of pan-Asian Pacific Americans. Located in the heart of Seattle’s Chinatown Historic District, the museum is in a historic building constructed in 1910 by Chinese immigrants. It is now an affiliated area of the National Park Service.
The museum's namesake, Wing Luke, was born near Canton, China and, at the age of five, moved with his family to the U.S. He became the first Asian American in the Pacific Northwest to hold elected office, winning a seat on Seattle's City Council in 1962. Prior to this, Luke served in the Pacific Theater in World War II where he was awarded a Bronze Star, earned a law degree from the University of Washington, and received an appointment to the position of Assistant Attorney General of Washington State in the Civil Rights Division. During his time in elected office, Luke was instrumental in the passage of an Open Housing Ordinance (1963), designed to provide greater protection against racial discrimination in the renting or selling of real estate in Seattle. Before his tragic death in a plane crash in 1965, Luke pushed for greater civil rights, urban renewal, and historic preservation. Luke believed that the culture and traditions of Chinese and other Asian immigrants should be preserved and taught and envisioned creating a place to present the history of and issues important to Asian Americans. The Wing Luke Museum was founded to preserve and share the experiences, histories, and contributions of pan-Asian Pacific American immigrants like Wing Luke.
Seattle's Chinatown and the Wing Luke Museum's building share a unique history. Chinatown took shape after 1910 with the completion of a major city regrading project, known as the Jackson Regrade. City officials designed the reconfiguration of the city with the intention of making Seattle's downtown roads more accessible. Over the course of three years, construction workers raised, lowered, and reshaped more than 100 blocks in downtown Seattle before finishing the project. Much of the soil removed from the affected streets became filler material for adjacent tidal flats, which allowed for the city's expansion.
The drastic changes in the city's landscape displaced residents and businesses, forcing them to move to the newly reclaimed tidal flats. Prior to the Jackson Regrade, the Jackson Street area was home to Seattle's original Chinatown located on South Washington Street (Pioneer Square). After the regrading project uprooted their community, Chinese immigrants began to move to nearby King Street. Chinese immigrant entrepreneurs and investors flocked to this new area to open businesses, which fueled the community's relocation process.
In 1910, Goon Dip, a wealthy Chinese entrepreneur and diplomat, established the influential Kong Yick Investment Company, a group comprised of 170 Chinese immigrant investors from Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest. These investors pooled their resources to finance the construction of the first Chinese-built buildings on King Street, the East and West Kong Yick Buildings, which served as the anchors for a "new" Chinatown. Constructed on the 700 block of King Street, the Kong Yick Buildings served as a catalyst for the development of a new Chinatown. The West Kong Yick Building housed the Yick Fung Company mercantile store, which supplied goods and foods to residents, restaurants, and other businesses in Seattle and throughout the Northwest. The East Kong Yick Building accommodated storefront businesses, restaurants, and family association rooms on its lower floors, while housing up to 100 residents in the Freeman Hotel on its upper floors. In Canton Alley, located between the Kong Yick Buildings, former storefronts were converted to apartments for many of the families in Chinatown. Immigrants who arrived from across the Pacific to work in Seattle's canneries, railroads, mines, restaurants, and other businesses looked to the Kong Yick Buildings as places of residency, cultural comforts, and community support. This area, along with the surrounding neighborhoods, would eventually become one of the most diverse immigrant communities in the U.S., as Asian Pacific Americans from China, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, the Philippines, and various Pacific Islands lived together alongside African Americans.
Today, the East Kong Yick Building houses the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. For almost 42 years, the museum was located in a remodeled garage in Chinatown. In 2006, the museum acquired the East Kong Yick building and, after an extensive restoration of the 6,000 square foot historic property, the museum relocated there. In addition to exhibit and educational spaces, the East Kong Yick Building now houses the re-created apartments and communal kitchen of the Freeman Hotel, the Gee How Oak Tin Association room, a Canton Alley family apartment, and a full reproduction of the Yick Fung Company store, one of the oldest stores in Chinatown. Jimmy Mar, the owner of the store, donated its entire contents to the Wing Luke Museum, so that visitors would be able to experience an intact piece of Seattle's immigrant history.
The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience is a National Park Service Affiliated Area, a designation that recognizes non-National Park Service properties that are privately owned and operated but encompass very important aspects of our nation's heritage. The museum is dedicated to engaging the public about the culture, art, and history of Asian Pacific Americans through its exhibits and its tours of the East Kong Yick Building and the larger Seattle Chinatown-International District.
The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, an affiliated area of the National Park Service, is located at 719 South King St, Seattle, WA. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00am to 5:00pm and the first Thursday and third Saturday of every month from 10:00am to 8:00pm. The museum is closed on Mondays, New Year's Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Admission fees vary based on age and student status; children under 5 years old are admitted free of charge. There is no admission fee on the first Thursday and third Saturday of each month. The museum offers tours of the museum building as well as several different guided tours of the Seattle Chinatown and Japantown neighborhoods. For more information, visit the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience website or call 206-623-5124.