Seattle’s Historic South Downtown consists of two distinct and culturally significant neighborhoods: Pioneer Square and Chinatown-International District.
Pioneer Square is located at the southern end of downtown Seattle, bordered by Safeco Field to the south, Columbia Street to the north, the waterfront to the west and Chinatown-International District to the east.
Pioneer Square is considered Seattle’s first neighborhood. Originally settled at Alki in 1851 by the Arthur Denny party, by the following year, early settlers relocated across Elliott Bay to the east, in what is now Pioneer Square. As Seattle’s commercial core took shape with the help of a natural deep-water harbor, timber, and the Klondike Goldrush, Pioneer Square quickly grew.
20 square blocks make up Pioneer Square. The majority of the buildings were rebuilt in the Richardsonian-Romanesque styles after the destruction of the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. In 1970, Pioneer Square became Seattle’s first historic district, ensuring protection of remaining historic buildings.
The Great Fire was just one of the many historic events that helped shape this community: this neighborhood’s colorful past is also one of brothels and bureaucrats, corruption and community, artists and Arctic explorers, Skid Road and subterranean sidewalks.
Today you can find a lively neighborhood filled with art galleries, small shops selling one-of-a-kind gifts, unique restaurants and services, boutique hotels, tourist attractions, and a thriving residential community.
The Chinatown-International District or “C-ID” is bordered by Fourth Avenue S. to west, Boren and Rainier Avenues S. to the east, S. Dearborn Street to the south, and S. Yesler Way to the north. Besides Chinatown-International District, there are other areas known as Japantown and Little Saigon.
The history of the Chinatown-International District is inextricably tied to the history of Asian settlement in Washington, and is characterized by alternating periods of immigration and deportation, cultural florescence and racial discrimination. In essence, the district’s history is the story of the efforts of Asian-Americans to build their home. Although the general area was originally referred to as “Chinatown,” the district has been home for many ethnicities, each adding to the life of the area.
Key attractions include the Smithsonian-affiliated Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, founded in memory of the first Asian American to hold elected office in the Pacific Northwest; Hing Hay Park, which houses ornate pavilion designed and constructed in Taipei; The Panama Hotel, built by the first Japanese-American architect in Seattle, Sabro Ozasa; INScape, the refurbished former Immigration Naturalization Services building now home of the largest arts and cultural enclave in Seattle; and Uwajimaya Village, a hub of commercial and residential activity.
The C-ID boasts some of the best Asian food in the city to pair with a diverse selection of shopping, and multicultural and multilingual festivities and experiences. Special festivals and events enliven the district throughout the year, including Lunar New Year and Dragonfest. Summer events include night markets, live performances, and movies.