This house is significant due to its association with George Tsutakawa, who became an important figure in both the Japanese American and Northwest artist communities. It also illustrates the social and economic success of Japanese Americans prior to their incarceration during World War II, as well as their triumph in surviving internment and rebuilding their social networks and businesses after the war.
This single family residence is located in North Beacon Hill and was constructed in 1913. By 1935, George Tsutakawa was the principal occupant; however, the following year he moved to the Central District. By 1938, the house was occupied by Paul G. Habicht and his wife Bertha. Paul worked as a construction engineer and owned the house through 1942. In 1942, John W. Link and his wife Madonna W. purchased the house, and John worked at Boeing. By 1951, Walter Chinn, a Chinese American, occupied the house with his wife Linda. Walter worked as a taxi driver and eventually became co-owner the China Cab Company with Charles E. Chinn. The Chinns live at this residence through 1966, when Darrel and Carole Shiley purchased the house. Darrel worked as a tool maker at Boeing, and they remained in the house through 1969.
George Tsutakawa (b. 1910 – d. 1997) was a significant Japanese American Northwest Artist. He was born in Seattle but moved back to Japan for schooling. After not excelling in the Japanese school system, he eventually returned to Seattle and worked at the Tsutakawa Company, their family business. When he was twenty-two, he enrolled in the University of Washington’s Art Department where he studied sculpture with Dudley Pratt. He eventually became manager of the Tsutakawa Company, which became a gathering place for Northwest artists, such as Malcolm Roberts, George Nakashima, and Mark Tobey. During World War II, the Tsutakawa Company was confiscated, and the family was sent to internment camps. George was drafted and sent to Camp Robinson, Camp Shelby, and Fort Snelling where he worked as an artist and Japanese language instructor. During this time, he met his future wife, Ayame Iwasa. After the war, George enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Washington, and his career as an artist accelerated. In the early 1950s, he was one of four Japanese American artists featured at the Zoe Dusanne Gallery, Seattle’s first professional Modern Art gallery. During his career, George worked as a painter, sculptor, and fountain maker, and his style merged American and Japanese design, mediums, and techniques. George spent the remainder of his life working as an artist and teaching art. He became an important figure in both the Nikkei and Northwest artist communities.
Substantial residential and commercial development in Beacon Hill occurred when a transportation corridor connecting the Rainier Valley to Downtown Seattle and Seattle’s industrial district was constructed along Rainier Avenue. Development in the valley was facilitated by logging during the 1880s, the operation of the Rainier Valley Electric Railway in the 1890s, and the Jackson and Dearborn Street re-grades in the 1900s. Milling was the primary commercial industry during the last part of the nineteenth century although some agricultural activity existed. As residential development increased, Rainier Avenue gradually became the principal commercial corridor connecting the residential neighborhoods of South Seattle to downtown, the International District, and Seattle’s industrial districts. World War II brought additional building growth related to the wartime industry, as well as the influx of defense workers to nearby Boeing and the Duwamish shipyards.
Beacon Hill has historically been a more economically and socially diverse neighborhood than Mount Baker to its east. There was less enforcement of residential deed restrictions and a greater availability of smaller, more affordable housing. One of the first land owners of Beacon Hill was George Riley, an African American from Portland, Oregon. George Riley, organizer of the Workingmen’s Joint Stock Association in Portland, arranged the organization’s purchase of property on Beacon Hill, which was platted in 1871 as Riley’s Addition. Furthermore, the northern end of Rainier Valley, which was originally settled by German immigrants, acquired the historical nickname “Garlic Gulch” during the early twentieth century due to the growing strength and predominance of its Italian American community.
In addition to the Italian American community in northern Rainier Valley, the Japanese American community grew and expanded southwards to Beacon Hill during the first two decades of the twentieth century as a result of relatively less restrictive immigration and exclusion laws. While the 1889 Alien Land Laws excluded non-citizens from owning land, they were able to purchase property under the names of their second generation family members. When the Immigration Act of 1924 inhibited further Japanese immigration, they were still able to continue expanding their families and businesses in Seattle. However, after President Roosevelt issued his Executive Order 9066 in 1942, the Japanese Americans in the Pacific Northwest were sent to internment camps and their properties and businesses were usually confiscated. After World War II, formerly incarcerated Japanese Americans returned to Seattle, successfully rebuilding their social networks and businesses and again emerging as a significant force in Seattle.
Beacon Hill’s diverse beginnings were reinforced by its landscape features, including Jefferson Park located at the center of Beacon Hill. Originally named Beacon Hill Park, Jefferson Park has exerted a profoundly positive influence on the development and social cohesion of the Beacon Hill neighborhood through its sustained use by local residents. Originally acquired by the City of Seattle in 1898, it was integrated into Seattle’s Olmsted system of parks. In 1915, the first public golf course west of the Mississippi opened at Jefferson Park. From 1919 to 1941, the year before many Japanese Americans were interned in the Northwest, the Japanese-American Language School in Seattle used the park for its annual picnics. Japanese Golf Association held annual tournaments beginning in 1931. African Americans, Japanese Americans, and Chinese Americans organized golf clubs during the 1940s and 1950s because they were excluded from white clubs; they used Jefferson Park as their home course.
The Jefferson Park community center and golf course remains open to the public and the Beacon Hill neighborhood continues to be an ethnically diverse, working-class community. Its businesses and public spaces, including Jefferson Park and Dr. Jose Rizal Park, reinforce this diversity.