Asian Express Grocery’s building is significant due to its association with Japanese and Chinese American residents in South Seattle. It reflects the strength of these communities and their social and economic force in Beacon Hill.
This multi-use, residential and retail commercial building is located in North Beacon Hill. It was constructed in 1928 and was owned by T. Umino during the early 1930s. Around 1930 or 1931, Toyo Grocery moved into the first floor commercial area after leaving its former location two blocks away at 1214 S. Walker Street. Toyo Grocery was operated by the Kaminishi family, a Japanese American family, and was in business through 1942. By 1948, the commercial space was occupied by Kenneth’s Grocery; by 1951, H&K Market, Inc. occupied the space. H&K Market was owned by the Eng family, a Chinese American family, and they remained in the building until 1954. From 1955 through 1969, Excel Market Grocery was run by George and Mrs. Laura Kaminishi. Today, the building operates as Asian Express Grocery and has two residential apartments on the second floor.
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 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.
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.