Spokane's China Town & Trent Alley Historical Marker
The Saranac Building has offered to be the home of the Historical Marker to commemorate Spokane’s Chinatown / Trent Alley. Plans are underway for a wall sculpture to be placed inside the building along with a video presentation.
Spokane was built by the Chinese & Japanese communities. The 1902 Great Northern Depot and its iconic clock tower signaled the arrival of rail transport in central Spokane. This project allows us to share the history that was buried and erased starting with the Chinese Seclusion Act, the incarceration of Japanese American at internment camps during WW2 and tearing down Japan Alley/ Chinatown to make way for Expo 74.
The Great Northern Clocktower at Riverfront Park is what remains of the Great Northern Railroad Depot, a transportation hub for the region. Chinese workers first showed up in the Spokane area as early as the 1850's and large numbers worked in the local mining and railroad industries, they experienced hostility, racism, violence, and legal exclusion as they labored to build the region’s railroad networks.
The railroad brought the “boom” to the boomtown that was Spokane, and the unsung heroes of this transformation into a regional hub were the Chinese immigrants who built the railroad. Despite the low numbers of Chinese residents included in the 1900 census, there was a large Chinese population of mostly retired railroad workers living in the area between Howard and Washington Streets along the Spokane River.
In the 1880s and 1890s, the railroad and mine companies in the West attempted to solve their massive manpower needs by looking across the Pacific to Japan. Japanese immigrants first arrived in Eastern Washington during the late 1800s and early 1900s, mostly as railroad workers and mine laborers. These young Japanese men worked for years in the Inland Northwest just to pay off their passage fare. They were often mistreated, and even, in a few instances, expelled or lynched.
Most of the Japanese population lived in a few square blocks in downtown Spokane, variously called Trent Alley, Japanese Alley or Chinatown (even though it was far more Japanese in character than Chinese). This block was crammed with Japanese hotels, laundries, barbershops, apothecaries, grocery stores, and noodle restaurants. From 1909 to 1915, Spokane even had its own Japanese-language newspaper, The Spokane Times.
A church called the Japanese Methodist Mission thrived. It became an important community center and evolved into the Highland Park United Methodist Church. A Buddhist congregation formed in 1945 and continues to this day.
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, it marked the beginning of a population boom for Spokane's Japanese community, because Spokane was outside the coastal evacuation zone. A flood of Japanese Americans from Seattle and the West Coast, seeking to avoid being sent to relocation camps, arrived in Spokane, causing the population to at least triple. The war years were difficult for the Japanese American community, which was often shunned and distrusted by the mainstream population, even though a number of Spokane Japanese Americans served heroically during the war.
In the 1890s Spokane had a bustling. population of about 500–600 Asians, they primarily lived in this small—roughly 6 blocks—space bordered by Spokane Falls Boulevard to the north and Main this was known as Japan Alley / Chinatown. These areas were demolished as part of construction projects spurred by Spokane's Expo '74. Today, the old Chinatown has disappeared, paved over for vast parking lots for Spokane's performing arts and convention centers.
The Asian Community been a part of Spokane for over 170 years and it’s time to share our contributions to this community.