This house is significant due to its association with George Tsutakawa, who became an important figure in both the Japanese American and Northwest artist communities. It also illustrates the social and economic success of Japanese Americans prior to their incarceration during World War II, as well as their triumph in surviving internment and rebuilding their social networks and businesses after the war.
This single-family residence located on the northern edge of the Mount Baker neighborhood, southeast of the International District. The house was constructed in 1908. According to the Polk Directories, from 1922 through 1940, the house was occupied by salesman George A L’Abbe and his wife Marie L L’Abbe. From 1941 to 1955, the property was owned by Vesta M. and Willis C Richards, an employee of Venetian Blind Company in downtown Seattle. In 1956, the property was purchased by George and Ayame Tsutakawa. The Tsutakwa family lived in the house through 1969, and Mrs. Ayame Tsutakawa remains the current owner.
George Tsutakawa (b. 1910 – d. 1997) was a significant Japanese American Northwest artist. He was born in Seattle but returned to Japan for schooling. After not excelling in the Japanese school system, he eventually returned to Seattle and worked at the Tsutakawa Company, their family business. When he was 22, he enrolled in the University of Washington’s Art Department where he studied sculpture with Dudley Pratt. He eventually became manager of the Tsutakawa Company, which became a gathering place for Northwest artists such as Malcolm Roberts, George Nakashima, and Mark Tobey. During World War II, the Tsutakawa Company was confiscated, and the family was sent to internment camps. George was drafted and sent to Camp Robinson, Camp Shelby, and Fort Snelling where he worked as an artist and Japanese language instructor. During this time, he met his future wife, Ayame Iwasa. After the war, George enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Washington, and his art became increasingly acclaimed. In the early 1950s, he was one of four Japanese American artists featured at the Zoe Dusanne Gallery, Seattle’s first professional Modern Art gallery. During his career as an artist, George worked as a painter, sculptor, printmaker, and fountain maker, and his style merged American and Japanese design, mediums, and techniques. George spent the remainder of his life both working as an artist and teaching art.
The Mount Baker neighborhood comprises two north-south tending ridges located southeast of downtown Seattle along Lake Washington. Initial development of the area occurred early in the twentieth century, relatively later than the Rainier Valley and Downtown Seattle areas. Development was initially impeded by Mount Baker’s geography during the mid-nineteenth century and was then stimulated by the construction of the Rainier Avenue Electric Street Railway along the Rainier Valley in the 1890s. The streetcar was paramount in facilitating travel to downtown Seattle.
The platting of Mount Baker occurred in three phases or additions: the York Addition in 1903 by George M. and Martha Taggart, the Dose Addition in 1906 by Charles P. Dose, and the Mount Baker Park Addition in 1907 by the Hunter Tract Improvement Company. The Mount Baker Park Addition represents the core of the neighborhood and is its primary, character-defining feature. Mount Baker Park is one of Seattle’s earliest planned subdivisions and most residences were constructed between 1905 and 1929. The houses reflect a variety of eclectic and Northwest-based architectural styles and include designs by many prominent local architects. Mount Baker was established as a residential neighborhood for upper-income White families. The Hunter Tract development company targeted these families by adopting deed restrictions and setting minimum size and price standards for each house. The careful design of the Mount Baker Park Addition’s lots, streets, boulevards, and parks reinforced its exclusivity. However, the platting and landscape plans of George F. Cotterill and Edward O. Schwagerl were significant as they integrated the hill’s natural topography into their design. In doing so, they honored the ideals of Seattle’s Olmsted System and the local government’s city planning efforts.
Relatively few minorities lived outside in South Seattle during the first two decades of the twentieth century, particularly in Mount Baker. Exceptions include the Italian American community, which became prominent in the northern Rainier Valley, as well as the Japanese American community, which grew and expanded southwards 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 and their properties and businesses were usually confiscated. After World War II, formerly incarcerated Japanese Americans returned to Seattle, successfully rebuilding their social networks and businesses and again emerging as a significant force in Seattle. Today, Mount Baker is home to a more ethnically diverse population than in the past. This middle to upper income neighborhood remains predominantly residential, and it retains much of its planned character.