Japanese community center seeks more online support in bid for renovation funds

By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly

The vinyl siding of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington (JCCCW) encases asbestos, something the JCCCW hopes to fix through the aid of a grant from Partners in Preservation. (Photo provided by JCCCW)

Clarence Moriwaki

The vinyl siding has protected the buildings from decades of rain, snow, and windstorms. But the vinyl also encases hazardous asbestos.

The Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington (JCCCW) has been located in the eastern part of Seattle’s International District — 1414 South Weller Street — for approximately 100 years. Its board members say that it is the time to get rid of outdated and dangerous construction materials.

At the end of World War II, the JCCCW provided emergency housing for displaced Japanese internment camp detainees. Today, it has grown from a Japanese-language school to a central location for Japanese community events. It includes the NW Nikkei Museum, a Japanese language library, and several cultural and martial arts classes.

In order to receive the maximum $125,000 grant for restoration, the JCCCW must get the most votes in the $1 million Partners in Preservation program, which is currently underway.

The program is a joint effort between American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Japanese Cultural and Community Center and its Japanese American constituency in 1935 in Seattle's Nihonmachi (Japantown), before the two buildings were combined (Photo provided by JCCCW)

The JCCCW is the only Asian American community center among 25 finalists — each receiving $5,000 — in the program, which is aimed at restoring, preserving, and revitalizing historic landmarks in the Puget Sound area. Though other landmarks like the Horiuchi Mural and King Street Station have ties to the International District in Seattle, the JCCCW is significant because it is a vital part of the community.

From April 15 to May 12, the public can vote online for their favorite historic site or project. The winner is guaranteed to receive a grant at a pre-determined amount.

Clarence Moriwaki, chief executive officer of the JCCCW, said the remainder of the $1 million will be based on three criteria. First, they include a “reasonable” vote total. “I do think that we should have a respectable total, and, just recently, we were in the top 10,” he said.

The second criterion is an open house. The JCCCW invited the public to its open house — Kodomo no Hi — on Saturday, May 1 and Sunday, May 2. The event celebrated Children’s Day and included kid’s activities and games, martial arts demonstrations, calligraphy, music, and dancing, and making windsocks (koi nobori).

Moriwaki said the open house would be “a demonstration of everything that we’re doing right now at the center.” He says good attendance by the public and a demonstration of JCCCW’s mission will be evaluated.

The grant application is the final criterion. He said, “Our grant application is a good one. It will address replacing the front façade of the two main buildings facing Weller Street.”

Moriwaki points out that additional renovation will make the JCCCW more accessible to its visitors with disabilities. “I think we can do some things that will make it even safer,” he adds.

The winner of the popular vote will be announced on May 13, and the final announcement of grant recipients is scheduled for June 15.

JCCCW began in 1902 as Nihongo Gakko, the oldest continually running Japanese-language school in the United States. Ten years later, the first building was constructed.

In 1922, the second building was completed, and a third building followed in 1929. All three buildings combine for a total of 18,500 square feet.

Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, the JCCCW was also designated as a Seattle Landmark in 2006.

Former state Rep. Kip Tokuda, who was one of three people who formed the Nikkei Heritage Association of Washington in 2002, said, “This grant is really about kids and the sustainability of a deep understanding of Japanese tradition and culture, and the role of Japanese Americans in America.”

“Our vision is that the JCCCW will be a ‘gathering place’ for all who wish to celebrate such tradition and history,” he added. “There is no such place in Washington, and I suspect that if such a place is not created now, we will lose the opportunity forever.”

Other Seattle landmarks in consideration for funding include the Horiuchi Mural at Seattle Center, the Naval Reserve Armory, Tugboat Arthur Foss, University Heights Community Center, Washington Hall, and King Street Station in Pioneer Square, among others. ♦

For more information about the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington, visit www.jcccw.org. For more information about the Partners in Preservation program, visit www.partnersinpreservation.com.

James Tabafunda can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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