Sometimes the most unassuming artifact can have a most prestigious past, and one you can’t immediately determine just by a glance. That is exactly the case when reflecting on Seattle’s historic Chinese Community Bulletin Board, which hides in plain sight to this day on the outer wall of the Louisa Hotel in the International District.
The Emerald City’s modern history cannot be separated from its relationship to myriad Asian countries across the Pacific Ocean. Along with its very significant history with the countries of Japan, Korea and Vietnam, Seattle has a long history with China. Some of the city’s oldest eateries—like South King Street’s 85-year-old Tai Tung—are of Chinese origin. But, despite this entwined past, the city for many decades did not have a Chinese-language newspaper. So, in the mid-20th century, people posted the important news and updates of the day on the Chinese Community Bulletin Board.
Secured against an average-looking brick wall, the wooden message board rests underneath a green and red flared overhang. With little bits of paper, staples, and pins still stuck into the paneling, similar to any city telephone pole. Looking at the simple bulletin board, you can picture what it was like reading the updates and checking the business listings, a bastion of help in an era where there perhaps wasn’t enough.
The Louisa Hotel, itself, is also a historic location. Over 100 years ago, it was the site of a diverse jazz-loving community. And in recent renovations, giant, beautiful murals depicting flappers, jazz musicians, and other happy cavorters were discovered.
And it was the site of tragedy. Seattle’s worst mass murder took place here in 1983. On the southwest corner of the building, at ground level with an entrance on Maynard Alley stood the Wah Mee Club, a dive bar that was a home for illegal gambling. Glass bricks with a tiny peephole allowed a doorman to see visitors and buzz in only those where were recognized. On February 18, 1983, the doorman admitted three young men, one of them a regular at the club who had accumulated gambling debts of over $10,000. Seeking to rob the club and its patrons, the three hogtied and then executed everyone inside - fourteen victims. One, a dealer who had only been shot through the neck, survived, and managed to escape to the street, flag down a policeman, and identify the perpetrators.
The Wah Mee club was sealed off, intact, for thirty years, a macabre tourist attraction. On Christmas Eve 2013, a fire started in a disused upper room of the Louisa Hotel. The resulting fire and water damage destablized the western half of the building, which was torn down, leaving only the eastern half plus the intact northwest corner. At the site of the Wah Mee club there remained only an empty foundation.
The site is an important landmark in Seattle, especially in terms of its pastiche of cultures intermixing within the city. And while the Chinese Community Bulletin Board may not be used as frequently as it once was—what with the internet as well as the publication The Seattle Chinese Post—it continues to hang, so that this chapter of Seattle’s history won’t be forgotten.
Know Before You Go
Keep your eyes open. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you could easily miss it.