St. George Parish is both architecturally and culturally significant. It is an excellent example of the Eclectic Spanish Revival style and has historically been associated with many ethnic groups in South Seattle, including Italian Americans, Belgians, Filipinos, and Hispanics. It reflects Beacon Hill’s early origins as a diverse neighborhood and its historical and contemporary role as a residential neighborhood for people who work in nearby industrial areas.
While the St. George Parish was founded in 1907 by the Franciscans, the existing parish building was constructed around 1952, and the congregation moved in after its completion. In the early 1920s, the church founded St. George Parish School in order to serve the families of immigrant railroad workers who worked nearby in the Georgetown rail yard and later at Boeing. The early student body was very diverse, including Austrians, French, Irish, Belgians, Italians, Bavarians, Poles, and Hispanics. This gradually shifted; and, today, the students are predominately Caucasian, Filipino, Asian, and Pacific Islanders. St. George Parish now shares a pastor and personnel with St. Edwards Church and St. Paul Church in South Seattle.
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.
Early Italian migrants moved to the Pacific Northwest to work at the coal mines in Renton, Newcastle, and Black Diamond. Once settled, Italian Americans began operating farms, including Fred Marino and Joe Desimone, who were involved in organizing the Pike Place Market. During the growth period from 1900 to 1910, additional Italian migrants moved to Seattle for jobs in building and road construction, as well as the city’s re-grading activities. During this period, the Italian American population grew, and the 1910 census documented approximately 45 percent of Italian Seattleites who lived in south downtown and north Rainer Valley. North Rainer Valley and north Beacon Hill became known as “Garlic Gulch,” and the community was centered on Rainier Avenue, between Massachusetts and Atlantic Streets. This block was the principal commercial area, while residences and institutional buildings, such as Colman School, Mount Virgin Roman Catholic Church, and St. Peter’s Catholic Church, were located southward on Rainier Avenue, as well as in the nearby Beacon Hill and Mount Baker neighborhoods.
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, leaving a vacuum in the neighborhoods. With the incarceration of Japanese Americans, the Chinese Exclusion Act was lifted in 1943, which opened the way for immigration by the Chinese who then began moving to Beacon Hill.
While there was a significant influx of Chinese migrant workers into the United States during the middle of the nineteenth century, immigration laws for the Chinese became more restrictive after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This, combined with the 1889 Alien Land Laws, thwarted the growth of Seattle’s Chinese population and restricted their residences to Chinatown. Despite this, Chinese American families grew and a second generation of Chinese Americans was born. By the 1930s, Chinese American families gradually began moving to the Beacon Hill area. With the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, the Chinese Exclusion Act was lifted in 1943, opening the way for immigration by the Chinese, who began moving to Beacon Hill in large numbers.
Due to the same exclusion laws that affected most minorities, African Americans did not begin to have a significant presence in South Seattle until the 1940s. However, it was not until the 1950s and 1960s that large numbers of families were able move out of Seattle’s established black neighborhoods. Furthermore, it was not until the passage of the Open Housing Ordinance by the Seattle City Council in 1968 that the ability of non-whites to relocate to South Seattle and Beacon Hill substantially increased. While residents continued to move to the neighborhood through the remainder of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the construction of Interstate 5 in the 1960s limited further residential development and contributed to its present-day physical isolation.
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.