This house is significant due to its association with Kamekichi Tokita, an influential Japanese American artist in the Northwest, as it illustrates the social and economic strength of Japanese Americans prior to their internment during World War II. The house is also significant because the industrial occupations of several of the house’s residents exemplify the importance of the Rainier Valley as a transportation corridor connecting the residential neighborhoods of South Seattle to downtown, the Seattle’s industrial districts, and the International District.
This single-family residence is located in North Beacon Hill. The house was constructed in 1900; and, by 1933, Arthur H. Perkins was resident. According to the Polk Directories, Mr. Perkins was a mill worker at Standard Lumber & Manufacturing Company and later at Pankratz Lumber Company. From 1934 through 1936, Kamekichi and Haruko Tokita were tenants. By 1937, Arthur Perkins moved back into the house, and he remained there through 1944. In 1948, Henry or Harry K. and Theresa Briggs were its principal occupants. Briggs is listed in the 1948 Polk Directory as a mechanic and driver for Great Northern Railway. After Mr. Briggs’ death, Mrs. Briggs remained in the house through 1963. While this address is currently listed as 2211 13th Avenue South, historically it was known as 2211 ½ 13th Avenue South.
Kamekichi Tokita (b. 1897 – d. 1948) was a Japanese American artist. During the 1930s, he worked at Noto Sign Company in the International District producing signs for Japanese and Chinese businesses. Kamekichi and his partner Kenjiro Nomura were well connected within the Northwest and Asian artist communities. Tokita’s paintings incorporated social realist approaches, as well as the techniques of Cézanne and Sesshu, a fifteenth century master of Japanese brush painting. He was known for his paintings of Seattle, particularly of Pioneer Square during the Depression years. Some of Tokita’s works were reproduced in a 1937 publication called “Some Works of the Group of Twelve.”
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 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. While the Immigration Act of 1924 inhibited further Japanese immigration, they continued to expand their families and businesses in Seattle. However, when 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.