Ground broken on Hirabayashi Place development

By Sue Misao
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Family members of Gordon Hirabayashi, along with business and community partners, broke ground at Hirabayashi Place on Jan. 25. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

About 150 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Hirabayashi Place, a new housing development that will be built at 424 S. Main Street in Seattle. Located in historic Japantown (Nihonmachi), the building will house first-floor retail space, 96 affordable apartments, and a childcare center. The event featured a luncheon and music by the Seattle Kokon Taiko and Na Aikane Ukulele Band.

Developed by InterIm CDA, the housing complex is named for Seattle native Gordon Hirabayashi, a pacifist who stood up for social justice when Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes during World War II.

Several members of Mr. Hirabayashi’s family joined the groundbreaking ceremony, including his sister, Esther Furugori, who remembered Gordon as the older brother who always took care of her.

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Members of Gordon Hirabayashi’s family attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Hirabayashi Place. Gordon’s sister, Esther Furugori, in the red coat, is the only surviving member of their immediate family. Jay Hirabayashi, right, is Gordon’s son. Both spoke during the ceremony.

Furugori said she began to see her brother in a new light after reading a book another brother, along with her nephew, wrote using Gordon Hirabayashi’s own writings and diaries. A Principled Stand: The Story of Hirabayashi v. the United States was published by University of Washington Press in 2013.

“When I read A Principled Stand, a book mostly relating his own words, I met another person with deep thoughts and conviction to stand up for his rights,” said Furugori. “I am very proud of my brother and what he stood for.”

Furugori also thanked InterIm and its associates for their hard work organizing and planning how the art and artifacts of her brother’s life will be depicted for future generations “to learn about Gordon and his action for social justice, not only for Japanese Americans, but for all citizens.”

Mr. Hirabayashi was imprisoned for defying curfew and internment during WWII, and again later for refusing induction into the army. Although he lost his case before the Supreme Court, in 1987 his conviction was overturned when a federal appeals court ruled the internment of Japanese American citizens was unconstitutional.

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An artist’s rendering of what the Hirabayashi Place will look like once it’s built. (Architectural rendering by Mithun)

Mr. Hirabayashi died in 2012 at the age of 93. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Andréa Akita, InterIm’s acting executive director, said she was excited to bring private and public partners together to create the 96 housing units, and honored to name it after Hirabayashi because he stood for courage and social justice.

“It’s that kind of spirit which we hope to memorialize in that building and that site,” Akita said. “That part of Nihonmachi — Little Japantown — has never recovered since World War II and the removal of Japanese citizens from their homes and communities.” (end)

Sue Misao can be reached at editor@nwasianweekly.com.

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