Location: 123 5th Ave SW
Diversity: Chinese Heritage ; Downtown National Historic District
Chinatown around 1902, photograph from National Archives, Pacific Alaska Region
Location today (2003), Photo by Ed Echtle
Although the Chinese population of Olympia was historically spread throughout the city, the group of buildings known as “Chinatown” was a focal point for the commercial, recreational, and financial activities of this population. Always marginalized, these businesses moved twice as the commercial development of Olympia spread west. This block, on Columbia between 5th Avenue and Legion, was its second location. Historian Ed Echtle notes:
Five two-story wood frame buildings, housing the Hong Yek Kee Company, the Quong Yuen Sang Company and the Hong Hai Company were built on piles over tide flats [as Columbia was then waterfront.] … The Chinese store was key to early Chinese community. It served as a multi-purpose facility, providing many services to resident Chinese. Inside, Chinese laborers found lodging, cooked their meals, sent and received mail, purchased supplies and socialized.
The Hong Yek Kee Company also served as a bank for the Chinese community, with owner Sam Fun Locke financing the development of Chinese-run businesses as far away as Hoquiam.
In 1913 these businesses moved again, to Water Street (the new waterfront after fill operations), and then finally razed in 1943.
The building currently at this location was built by Sam Locke, known as the “Mayor of Chinatown.” It was originally known as the Shanghai Cafe, and while ownership and names have changed over the years, two of the three businesses in this building are Asian restaurants. The building is located in the Downtown National Historic District.
Olympia’s Historic Chinese Community – Chinatown, by Ed Echtle for the Olympia Historical Society
Copyright © 2022 Deborah Ross