Walking and the pedestrian environment
April 6, 2005
ID Neighborhood Murals (Seattle)

Seattle's Chinatown/International District has the chance to strengthen its identity by preserving and supplementing murals painted on buildings and public infrastructure.

There are three categories of murals currently: cultural artwork, product advertising, and business advertising.

Several opportunities exist for additional cultural artwork.  Many remaining historic advertisements are in desperate need of restoration before they fade away completely.  Past advertisements can be recreated after reviewing historic photographs.  Finally, new advertising murals could be encouraged through policy of the preservation district.

** Please note that colors in these photos have been altered - sometimes dramatically - to increase the readability of the text on the buildings.

I. Inventory
A. Cultural Artwork

Neighborhood MuralsI-5 Freeway pillars on South Jackson (modern, excellent condition)

Neighborhood MuralsWAPIFASA mural on back of old Uwajimaya building on South Weller at 6th - actually on board attached to building (modern, new)

Neighborhood MuralsDragon mural with images of migrant laborers on south side of Bush Hotel (modern, faded)

Neighborhood MuralsDragon dance mural on east side of building on South King at 8th (modern, good condition)

Neighborhood MuralsCommunity activity mural on north side of playground at Chong Wa on South Weller at 8th (modern, beginning to fade)

Neighborhood MuralsGods for prosperity on north side of United Savings Bank now Washington Federal Savings on South Jackson at 6th (modern, excellent) - 'in cognito' business advertising

B. Product Advertising

Neighborhood MuralsSloan Cigars on east side of ____ building at South Weller and 7th (historic, extremely faded and barely legible)

C. Business Advertising

Neighborhood MuralsCopy Company on north and south side of building on 6th between South Lane and South Weller (modern)

Neighborhood MuralsBush Garden on south side of restaurant on 7th between South Lane and South Weller (style indicates 60s, extremely faded)

Neighborhood MuralsNeighborhood MuralsGim Ling Restaurant on east and south sides of China Gate building (perhaps 50s or 60s, extremely faded)

Neighborhood MuralsShanghai Hotel (historic, extremely faded) - near 7th and Weller

Neighborhood MuralsMichigan House on west side of ____ building at South Weller and 7th (historic, extremely faded and barely legible)

Neighborhood Murals'Queen ----' on south side of building with Hong Kong Restaurant on Maynard between King and Weller (historic, extremely faded and blocked by temporary structure)

Neighborhood MuralsHotel Alps on west side of building at Maynard and South King

Neighborhood Murals'Chop Suey Chow Mein Dancing' on north side of ?? on 7th between South Jackson and South King (historic, modified several times partially in good condition partially in need of restoration, brick crumbling from top of building)

Neighborhood MuralsGolden West Hotel on north side of ?? on 7th between South Jackson and South King (historic, painted over to obscure)

Neighborhood MuralsMilwaukee Café on north side of Milwaukee Hotel on 7th between South Jackson and South King (historic, very faded and hard to read)

Neighborhood MuralsMilwaukee Hotel on north side of Milwaukee Hotel on 7th between South Jackson and South King (historic, very faded and hard to read)

Neighborhood MuralsTokiya Hotel on south side of building on Maynard at Jackson. (historic, very faded and mostly blocked by new building)

Neighborhood MuralsBush Hotel on west side of Bush Hotel on South Jackson at Maynard (historic, recently restored, great condition)

Neighborhood MuralsHotel U.S. on west side of building on Maynard between South Jackson and South Main (historic, faded but legible)

Neighborhood MuralsNP Hotel on south side of NP Hotel on 6th between South Jackson and South Main (historic, recently restored, excellent condition)

Neighborhood MuralsPossible sign on west side of building on north side of South Jackson midblock between 5th and 6th.  Part looks like 'Minimum COD Charge $??' (unsure origin, mostly washed off)

Neighborhood MuralsTicino Apartments on south side of building on 6th at Yesler (unsure time period, excellent condition)

Neighborhood MuralsPossible washed off paint on west side of Nippon Kan Theatre on Washington east of 6th (almost entirely washed off if true)

II. Opportunities for Cultural Artwork

  • I-5 pillars along South King Strengths: High visibility; possible funding from WSDOT; compliments existing murals Challenges: Cost (find cost of Jackson); coordination with WSDOT
  • Underside of I-5
  • Utility boxes along Jackson Strengths: Only project to enhance pedestrian realm; established project type; should be possible to get SPU 1% money Challenges: Find partners to create attractive designs; elements that aren't out of place
  • Sides of non-historic buildings

III. Recreating Eliminated Advertising

Photographs from the WLAM, UW, City Archives, KC Assessor collection at Washington State Archives, and private collections can provide designs to restore.  When possible they could be replaced in their previous location. Otherwise, they could be reused elsewhere
in the neighborhood.

IV. Encouraging New Murals

Apartments and large businesses could be encouraged to add large painted murals to the sides of their buildings.  City advertising laws restrict their scale, but creatively adding artwork to alongside could improve their appearance and serve multiple purposes.  Perhaps they could recreate a historic sign and add theirs next to it.

Advertisements for existing businesses run the risk of becoming out-of-date if businesses move or close.  Interestingly, this is true of the historic signs that we are trying to preserve as well.  Perhaps signs should be limited to established, cornerstone businesses
and those that appear bound to last for quite some time.

In addition to real advertising, faux art advertising could be considered and encouraged.

V. Considerations for Restoration

There are serious issues to consider before pursuing a program of restoration.

If we restore a sign on a building that obviously needs to be rehabilitated, would the sign be damaged during the rehab project?

Should we pay for restoration of a sign on a decaying property, rewarding a negligent owner?

Can we find out from Interim ICDA how much was paid to restore the signs on the NP and Bush?

Should we restore advertising for businesses that no longer exist? For example, what if a visitor is looking for a dance spot?  Hotel rooms aren't 5 cents, but other signs aren't so obvious.

Should we restore to 100% new, or make them look a bit faded but clear and attractive?

Posted by Rob Ketcherside at April 6, 2005 2:06 PM
Lost Seattle
Check out my book Lost Seattle for more explorations of history and urbanism.
These pages are an archive. For my new content, visit ba-kground.com.
Copyright Rob Ketcherside; contact roket swirly gwu.edu