Vietnamese Presbyterian Brighton Church is significant due to its association with both the Vietnamese and Ethiopian communities in South Seattle. It has become an integral part of the social and religious life of local ethnic communities and reflects the gradual yet successful racial integration in South Seattle.
This religious structure is located on the edge of the Seward Park neighborhood in South Seattle. The building was constructed in 1927 for the Brighton Presbyterian Church. The structure was expanded in 1952 when a wing was added.
The church was first established as Brighton Presbyterian Church, and the Polk Directories indicate that, in 1900, it was originally located nearby at the Rainier Avenue and S Holly Street intersection. By 1929, the church completed construction on their new building and moved to its present location at 6701 51st Avenue South. While the Brighton Presbyterian congregation historically struggled for membership, during the early 1990s, Rev. Chuck McAlister began developing outreach programs, such as ESL classes, for the local Vietnamese community. The church later expanded this concept and began providing social service programs for local immigrants and refugees of Asian Pacific countries. By 1994, one third of the congregation was Vietnamese. However, membership continually declined; and, by 1998, the congregation had dissolved. The church then reorganized as the Vietnamese Presbyterian Brighton Church and occupies the building today. The Kidst Mariam Ethiopian Orthodox Church also worships in the building and serves the local Ethiopian population in South Seattle.
Substantial residential and commercial development in South Seattle and the Rainier Valley occurred when a transportation corridor connecting the Rainier Valley to downtown 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.
Few ethnic minorities lived in South Seattle during the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. Substantial racial integration in South Seattle did not begin until the 1930s, but increased during the 1960s when many in the Japanese Nikkei community and African American communities began to move out of the Central Districts and to relocate to South Seattle. An exception is the northern end of Rainier Valley, which was originally settled by German immigrants but acquired the historical nickname “Garlic Gulch” during the early twentieth century due to the growing strength and predominance of its Italian American community. When President Roosevelt issued his Executive Order 9066 in 1942, the Japanese Americans in the Pacific Northwest were sent to internment camps. With the incarceration of Japanese Americans, the Chinese Exclusion Act was lifted in 1943, opening the way for immigration by the Chinese who then began settling in the valley. However, it was not until the passage of the Open Housing Ordinance by the Seattle City Council in 1968 that housing covenants and severely restricted neighborhoods became legally open to non-whites. Only after passage of this ordinance did significant numbers of Asians, Filipinos, African Americans, Latinos, and others move to South Seattle. Rainier Valley continues to reflect its historical social diversity and its origins as a commercial corridor.