What a difference 12 years makes: For the Lunar New Year, we look back on how far the International District has come since the last Year of the Rabbit

By Rebecca Lee
Northwest Asian Weekly

In 1999, President Bill Clinton was in office, the United States was in the midst of the dot-com boom, and the world was facing the turn of the century. In the Seattle Metropolitan area, businesses were taking off, the new Safeco Stadium was being constructed, and Gov. Gary Locke was working on being re-elected for a second term. During the Lunar New Year (the week of Feb. 16, 1999) the Asian community was preparing for the upcoming festivities.

Local restaurants in 1999

In the International District, the community geared up for the Lunar New Year by shooting firecrackers to ward off evil spirits.

1. Uwajimaya was moving from its former location on 6th and South King Street to its current location on 5th and Weller. The move was completed in November 2000.

2. Another bakery joined the International District. A Piece of Cake Bakery reopened its doors with a new expansion, ringing in the Lunar New Year with 20,000 firecrackers.

3. Further south on Rainier Avenue, Jumbo Chinese Restaurant opened. It was the biggest Chinese restaurant outside of Seattle’s Chinatown.

It was part of the Rainier Mall. This mall consisted of Jumbo Restaurant, retail outlets for wedding dresses, a tuxedo shop, one-hour photo services, a shoe store, a furniture store, travel agency, jewelry store, and flower shop.

Performances and local events in 1999

1. The Burke Museum of National History and Culture held a celebration that lasted three days. The event presented traditional food from different cultures that celebrate the Lunar New Year. The authentic foods came from different restaurants sold along “the Ave” near the University of Washington.

2. A cast made up of mostly Asian Americans performed “West Side Story” at the Nippon Kan Theatre, benefitting the United Way of King County. The show was a success, raising $8,500.

3. The Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area, then headquartered at Bush Hotel, hosted an evening Lunar New Year event.

4. Lion dance performances at the Hing Hay Park occurred the morning of the New Year.

5. Tet Festival, which celebrated the cultural roots of Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans by presenting and promoting arts, music, performances, and foods that are unique to Vietnam, celebrated the Lunar New Year at the Seattle Center House (nice to see that some things haven’t changed!).

Change on the horizon in 1999

1. In 1999, Rainier Valley residents were just hearing about a proposal from Sound Transit about a tunnel along Rainier and Martin Luther King. However, there were many concerns from the community, such as cost, environmental concerns, and construction concerns.

In the end, the community decided that the light rail was a necessity, so that businesses along the rail could increase customer count.

2. The Seattle Chinese Garden (SCG) was given funding for improvement in the area.

The Song Mei Pavilion made in Chongqing, China, was set to arrive in Seattle as a new addition to the garden. It was the first of many installments for the garden.

Other 1999 events we just could not forget

1. Gov. Gary Locke attended a luncheon meeting with Asian community members, thanking them for their support during his time in office.

He also clarified that he would not be running for U.S senator any time soon. He would be re-elected the following year for a second term as the governor of Washington state.

2. Hong Kong soap opera queen Nancy Sit passed by Seattle, stirring up a crowd while visiting a close friend at Honey Court Seafood Restaurant.

She was heading to San Francisco for a fundraising performance for the Chinese American elderly and children. ♦

Rebecca Lee can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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