Mutual Fish Company’s building is significant due to its association with the Japanese American community in Seattle. The building’s location reinforces Rainier Avenue’s significant role as a transportation and commercial corridor, as well as, the region’s historical ethnic diversity. The Mutual Fish Company’s established position within the Japanese American community also makes this building an integral component of the Rainier Avenue commercial corridor.
This commercial property is located between the North Beacon Hill and Mount Baker neighborhoods along Rainier Avenue. The original building at this site was built around 1924; and, from 1924 to 1960, was occupied by Western Ornamental Iron & Wire Works. In 1960/1961, Olson Metal Works took over the building until 1964. In 1965, the building was altered in order to accommodate food processing and erect new business signs; and, by 1966, the Mutual Fish Company had occupied the building. The Mutual Fish Company is a Japanese American–owned company, originally founded in 1947 by the Yoshimura family. Three generations of the Yoshimura family have run the company, and it is still owned by the Yoshimuras today.
Substantial residential and commercial development in South Seattle and the Rainier Valley occurred after a transportation corridor was established from the valley to Downtown Seattle and Seattle’s industrial district in the southwest portion of the city. This transportation corridor primarily exists along Rainier Avenue. Its expansion was facilitated by the logging of the valley’s thick forests 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 development existed. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, commercial and residential development expanded southwards from Downtown Seattle and northwards from Columbia City. Concurrently, Rainier Avenue became a commercial corridor connecting the length of Rainier Valley to Downtown Seattle, the International District, and Seattle’s industrial district. 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.