Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Hotel Living and Asian Americans: Images of Urban Life in Seattle, Washington's Chinatown

Dr Marie R. Wong.

As an American building type, the single room occupancy (SRO) hotel is an important remnant of city centers. Constructed between 1880-1930, they provided a reasonably priced housing alternative to the urban poor and immigrant workers.

Constructed in American Chinatowns, Japantowns, and Filipino communities, SROs provided the “stage” for cultural activity and built expression of an immigrant population. They were home to transient male workers who lived in the city and left for seasonal work opportunities in canneries, railroads, lumber industries, and farming.

Seattle’s Chinatown reflects the national waves of Asian immigration to the United States and laws that were associated with the settlement of the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos. In addition to cultural identity expressed through colors and signs, Asian American groups redesigned these structures to suit their needs.

There are twenty-eight SROs remaining in Chinatown, seven of which are completely or partially vacant, five that are considered sub-standard by the city, and three that no longer function as residential uses. According to the Seattle Chinatown Strategic Plan, SROs provide 40% of the housing in the neighborhood. Yet as disrepair and deterioration of these structures continues to be annually compounded, their viable use is threatened.

This presentation will review the historic and contemporary significance of these buildings to the Asian American community and review prospects and progress towards their restoration and reuse. Community planning goals will be discussed as they pertain to bridging a broader understanding of ethnicity and architecture, and the building of cultural community in the urban environment.


Dr Marie R. Wong  (United States)
Assistant Professor, Director Bachelor of Public Affairs
Institute of Public Service
Seattle University

Assistant Professor, Director of the Bachelor of Public Affairs Program. Teach classes in American housing design and community sustainability, Exploring the American City, Asian American history. Over 20 years of professional experience in Urban Planning and Design.

  • Culture and Identity in Residential Hotels
  • Immigrants and Cultural Expression in the Built Environment
  • Interpreting a Sense of Place

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)