This house is significant due to its association with the Namkung family. The Namkungs’ work in local arts and business contributed to the cohesion and self-awareness of their own Korean American community, as well as the Northwest artistic community. The occupancy of this house by both Korean and Japanese Americans also contributed to the social and ethnic diversity that would eventually predominate in South Seattle, particularly Beacon Hill.
This single family residence is located on North Beacon Hill. The house was constructed in 1949; and, by 1951, it was occupied by C.W. Maxwell. In 1953, Johsel and Helen Mineko Namkung along with their son Moses and his wife Pearl were the principal residents. The Namkungs, a Korean American family, lived at this residence through 1959. By 1960, Troy J. Cox and his wife Joanne moved into the house. Troy worked as a baker at a Thriftway Store. The Coxes lived at this residence until 1962; and, from 1963 through 1965, Ronald S. and Janet K.Yamamoto, Japanese Americans, resided in the house. By 1966, Richard S. and Linda R. Oshiro, also Japanese American family, occupied the house. Richard worked a printer for Stordahl & Sons in Seattle, and the Oshiro family lived in the house through 1969.
Johsel Namkung was born in 1919 in South Korea and received training as a musician. Since immigrating to Seattle around 1947, he has worked as a singer and a photographer. He enrolled in the University of Washington’s School of Music but gradually began focusing more on photography, and eventually specializing in nature photography. Johsel’s photographic style relies on sharply focused and intimate studies of nature. He apprenticed with respected photographer Chao-Chen Yang in Downtown Seattle and also worked with Ansel Adams. During this time, Johsel’s wife Mineko opened the Hanga art gallery on Capitol Hill, where she sold contemporary Japanese woodblock prints. Hanga was only open for five years, after which Mineko began to exhibit and sell her own watercolors and prints through the Kiku Gallery. The Namkungs were very active in the Northwest artist community and associated with artists including Paul Horiuchi, George Tsutakawa, Mark Tobey, Kenneth Callahan, and Guy Anderson. Johsel eventually worked in commercial photography, and he continues to exhibit his photographs and practice music.
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.
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.