This house is both culturally and architecturally significant. It remains an excellent example of mid-twentieth century Modernism. It was designed by Benjamin McAdoo and commissioned by the Ota family. Benjamin McAdoo was an important professional and civil leader in the African American community, as well as an important American Architect, whose practice integrated social values and architectural design. The commissioning of this house by the Otas is also consistent with the historic return of Japanese Americans to South Seattle after World War II, as well as the influx of residents who were employed by Boeing around this time period. The house’s association with the Otas and Benjamin McAdoo also reflects Seattle’s gradual move towards racial integration and the present-day ethnic diversity in Rainier Valley.
This single-family residence is located in the Rainier Beach neighborhood at the southern end of Rainer Valley. The house was constructed in 1956 for Kengi (Kenneth) and Kimi Ota. The Otas, a Japanese American family, lived in the house through 1969. Kenneth worked as a buyer for Boeing, located in the industrial district to the west of this house. The 1960 Polk Directory shows the house’s address changed from 10240 61st Avenue South to 10300 61st Avenue South. In 2004, the Otas sold the property to Frances and Hiroshi Asano, who remain the current occupants. Hiroshi Asano works as an architect for NBBJ in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood.
The residence was designed by architect Benjamin McAdoo (b. September 29, 1920 – d. June 18, 1981), who was the first African American architect in Washington State to maintain a professional practice. He designed churches, single- and multi-family residences, commercial buildings, and institutional buildings. McAdoo’s design process modified the popular mid-twentieth century Modern style in order to accommodate regional landscape features, as well as the socio-economic needs of his clients. He incorporated civic engagement and social justice in his private life and professional practice. In the early 1960s, he accepted an administrative position with the United States Agency on International Development and directed housing programs in Jamaica and Washington, D.C. After he returned to Seattle in 1964, McAdoo became president of the Seattle chapter of the NAACP and began broadcasting a weekly radio show focusing on social issues. He maintained his architectural practice from 1947 until his death in 1981, after which the firm continued as McAdoo, Malcolm and Youel, Architects, in 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 during the late nineteenth century. 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.
In addition to the strong Italian American community in northern Rainier Valley during the first two decades of the twentieth century, the Japanese American community grew and expanded to South Seattle during this time as a result of relatively less restrictive exclusion laws. Despite the 1889 Alien Land Laws, which prevented non-citizens from owning land, they were able to purchase property under the names of their second generation family members. While the Immigration Act of 1924 inhibited further Japanese immigration, their social and economic presence continued to expand in Seattle. However, when President Roosevelt issued his Executive Order 9066 in 1942, the Japanese Americans in the Pacific Northwest were sent to internment camps for the duration of World War II. Many families returned to Seattle after the war and successfully rebuilt their homes and professional practices.
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 the Rainier Valley substantially increased.