Nippon Kan Theatre

Primary Name: 
Alternate Name: 
Place Type: 
Neighborhood: 
Address: 
628 South Washington Street, Seattle WA
Postal Code: 
98 104
Description: 

The Nippon Kan Theatre was an important community center for the Japanese American residents of Seattle from the early twentieth century up until the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Built with $80,000 in funds gathered by the community and designed by Charles L. and C. Bennet Thompson, the Nippon Kan opened in 1909 at 622 South Washington Street (what is now 628 S. Washington St.) in Seattle's International District. The building itself is four stories in height, and originally, the ground floor was used for store rooms, with the upper floors housing theatre performances and community events. The theatre hosted kabuki, opera, and famous musicians such as soprano Tamaki Miura and tenor Yoshie Fujiwara, as well as other community events.

The Nippon Kan was boarded up during the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and though it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, it was not reopened until 1981, when it was restored by Seattle Architect Edward M. Burke and his wife, Betty Burke. In 2005, the building was sold to ABC Legal Services, and it was converted into office space. Despite it designation as a Historic Landmark, there are no regulations on renovating the building.

The original curtain from the theatre, a fire curtain which also served as an advertisement scrim, is currently housed at the Wing Luke Museum. The scrim is a 15 by 30 foot tapestry of painted advertisements, mostly in Japanese script, which local businesses purchased from the Nippon Kan with a subscription fee. The fabric of the curtain is mostly asbestos, and so after it was restored, it was also encased in resin.

Open Date: 
1909
Performing Art Groups: 
Sources: 
Long, Priscilla. "Nippon Kan Theater opens in Seattle's International District in 1909" 9 April, 2001., Historylink.org, HistoryLink.org Essay 3180. Kang, Cecilia, "Seattle Loses Icon of Japanese Heritage" 25 Nov. 2005, Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Web., Ramirez, Marc, "Nippon Kan's long-lost curtain back on stage" 19 May 2008., Seattle Times. Web. Seattle Daily Times, 3 Feb. 1908, p.5., Seattle Daily Times 12 Nov. 1921, p.3., Wong, Brad. "Nippon Kan will be the next stage for Seattle business" 30 May 2005. Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Web.