La Cabana Café is significant due to its association with the Latino community and El Centro de la Raza. It also reflects the racial diversity that existed in Beacon Hill since its early development, as well as the role of Beacon Avenue as a commercial corridor serving the local neighborhood.
This commercial property is located in North Beacon Hill. It was constructed during the early 1950s and, by 1951, was occupied by Beacon Cycle and Sporting Goods. By 1956, Mom’s Kitchen Café, owned by Mrs. Jean Bowman, had taken over the commercial area. Mom’s remained in business through 1969; but, by 1973, La Hacienda Café occupied the building. By 1990, the restaurant name had changed to La Cabana Café, which is still in business today.
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.
This restaurant was one of the first Latino businesses in South Seattle. It functioned as a gathering place for El Centro de la Raza activists. Interestingly, this property transitioned into a Latino business during the 1970s, the time period when significant amounts of Latino activism was occurring in Seattle and Washington State. This included the emergence of Las Chicanas, the formation and activism of the Brown Berets and the occupation of the Old Beacon Hill School. The establishment of El Centro de la Raza was a significant result of the Latino activism 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.