Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Echos of an Empty Room

The building stands as a memory of its former glory, with its windows boarded up and its rooms empty. The scattered debris of the hundreds of people who used to roam the lobby and live in its rooms is a reminder that nothing lasts forever.
Built in 1928 the Publix Hotel stands out among the buildings in Seattle’s International District. It’s chipping white and blue paint brings a perfect image of antiquity to the mind. As people pass by its long silenced walls and locked doors they don’t even seem to notice the voices of residents that haunt the dusty building.
“On a sunny day, it shines,” says local business owner and lifelong International District resident Donny Chen, “no matter where you are in the neighborhood you always know where it is.”
Originally housing laborers, the Publix Hotel towers over the neighborhood and its white walls seem to glow around the stout dark colored buildings. In the 1920s, with the arrival of the first wave of immigrants to Seattle, the hotel housed many Chinese laborers who were brought to the city’s shore to help build the railroad.
Later, during World War II, the second wave arrived consisting of Japanese refugees trying to escape the treat and turmoil that was taking place in their homelands. Being a place with many rooms and cheap rent, the Publix Hotel was a perfect fit for the bachelors who suddenly found themselves in a strange new land. Unable to bring their families with them, many men took up residency in the building and worked as laborers and waited patiently for the chance to bring their families over to the land of opportunity.
“There were never any kids to play with,” remembers Chen.
Over time, wave after wave of Asian immigrants arrived in the once small port town of Seattle. Between the 1930 and the 1960s many immigrants from all over Asia such as Vietnam, Korea and the Philippians and many found a safe haven in the Publix Hotel.
Eventually, used as a half way house, the hotel always seemed to have open doors for those in need and provided a safe place for those who had low income, but trying to piece their lives back together. Seattle residents such as former drug addicts, victims of abuse, bankruptcy and depression, all found a roof over their heads with the help of some Seattle case workers and were only charged an average of $75 dollars a month.
In 2002, the long time Japanese American family owned hotel shut its doors once the economy made it impossible to maintain the building. With the plumbing and lighting going, the building was seemingly falling apart and the family decided to sell the building to the Uwajimaja Company for later renovations.
The plan was originally to turn the building into an apartment complex for low income families, just as it always seemed to provide for. However, with the economy spiraling to new lows each year the renovations seem to be being put off longer and longer.
“We’re just waiting,” says one Uwajimaja representative Mr. Heroshi.
The Publix Hotel still stands tall, surrounded by the neighborhood that grew up around it. It’s soul reaching out to those who would listen to its lonely cries and the echoing voices of all the people it’s walls protected and waiting for the next chance to help those in need.

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