Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Spokane's Chinatown

By Kris Krell

Spokane’s Chinatown

Did you know that Spokane had a Chinatown from the early 1800s to the 1970s?

Spokane’s Chinatown spread over three or four blocks in the alleys near Trent Avenue.  Chinatown’s boundaries east and west were roughly between Howard Street and Bernard Street, and north and south, between Front Avenue and Main Avenue.  Front Street was near where Spokane Falls Boulevard is today.  Chinatown was known by its nicknames Trent Alley and then also Japanese Alley by 1910.

        Trent Alley, Chinatown, 1910

In the early 1800s immigrants came to Spokane from all over the world to work in the local railroad and mining industries.   An anti-Chinese/Japanese prejudice in many of America’s cities and towns during that time caused the Chinese and Japanese residents to live and work in Chinatown.  Chinese and Japanese markets, laundries, restaurants and hotels were nestled in these alleys.  Chinatown was a thriving area.  Spokane’s white majority considered Chinatown an exotic location, and they were also attracted to the illicit businesses such as gambling, opium dens, and houses of prostitution.  

Chinatown began about 1883 in Spokane.  Before the great Spokane fire of 1889 the population was about 600; many businesses were lost in Chinatown in the fire. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was put into law that stopped Chinese people from immigrating to the United States, and the law denied recently arrived Chinese the right to citizenship.  The ban was renewed in 1904 and finally repealed in 1943.  During the years of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinatown’s population declined.  Then in the early years of the 20thcentury, it was illegal for Chinese laborers wives to immigrate to the United States, so eventually Chinatown in Spokane was populated by only men.  

By 1910, Japanese families had moved into the Chinatown area; the population was now about 1,000 residents.  The Japanese opened restaurants, laundries, hotels, fish markets, barbershops, and pool halls.  Chinatown, now called Japanese Alley, was thriving again.

By 1935, the Depression had taken its toll; many Japanese returned to Japan.  The Japanese population had declined to 385. 

After WWII, Spokane’s Chinatown population grew again. Spokane became a refuge for Japanese trying to avoid being sent to Internment camps on the West Coast.  Spokane was outside the evacuation zone!  After the war, those residents still living in Chinatown moved out and into the Spokane population.

By 1974, Chinatown was deserted, and the buildings that were still standing were demolished to make way for Expo ’74.

Where Trent Alley, Chinatown, was is now covered with parking lots, the convention center, and businesses. 

Sources:  Wikipedia, Spokane Historical

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