605 ½ S. Main Street, Seattle
I often wish for a worm hole between my house and the Panama Hotel Tea & Coffee House in Seattle’s International District. It’s pretty much the perfect third place: well-lit, calm, music played low enough not to be distracting. Tables are scattered throughout the two-story space. This means there are plenty of cozy corners that feel perfect for visiting or for working on something.
The Panama Hotel opened in 1910, and has a fascinating history. Built as a workingman’s hotel and traditional communal bath house, the building is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
When the United States government ordered Japanese and Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast into internment camps in 1942, Panama owner Takashi Hori permitted neighbors to store belongings they were unable to take at the hotel. Many of these were never reclaimed. A Plexiglas window in the teahouse floor offers a view of the basement, where some of these trunks and suitcases still remain.
The teahouse walls are lined with large historic photographs of the neighborhood. A hand-drawn map of S. Main Street and surrounding streets notes names of the many businesses that operated in this lively neighborhood before internment. Current and former residents, now elderly, are invited to add information to the map. Memory by memory, this evolving collage of information documents history.
The Panama is important to the International District community. Walking tours of the neighborhood stop here, as do Seattleites showing visitors the town. This is a quiet but moving monument, an excellent place to meditate on our complex community.
May 22, 2015