YAKIMA, Wash. -- Growing up in Wapato’s Japanese American community, Eddie Iseri spent much of his time in school and helping out at his mother’s grocery store. He didn’t travel to Yakima that often.
When he did, he usually got a haircut at the Sunrise Cafe at 21 S. Front St., in the small section of downtown Yakima known as Japan Town. He also bought a bicycle at one of the Japanese-American owned businesses that packed the area bordered by South Front Street, Chestnut Street, Yakima Avenue and South First Street.
“I used to go to the movies for a nickel,” said Iseri, who is 88.
Only a few buildings remain from the days of Yakima’s Japan Town and adjacent Chinatown, but those districts will come alive again Sunday through two tours led by Ellen Allmendinger, who conducts the Downtown Yakima History and Mystery walking tours.
The tours will begin at 11 a.m. and at 1 p.m. at North Town Coffeehouse, 32 N Front St. Like the bigger free downtown tours she started last summer, participants will gather at the sculpture in front about 10 minutes before tours begin.
Allmendinger thinks each tour will take about 45 minutes. Wear weather-appropriate clothing.
Sunday is the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which forced more than 120,000 West Coast residents of Japanese descent into prison camps. Most of them were born in the U.S. The Yakima Valley’s Japanese American community never recovered; only about 10 percent of the 1,017 taken to Heart Mountain, Wyoming returned to the Valley.
The block formerly known as Japan Town was home to numerous hotels and restaurants, along with insurance brokers, seed businesses, laundry and barber shops, a dentist, clothing and variety stores and a fruit-drying business.
Japanese “were doing business (there) in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t booming until about 1920, when they started calling it Japan Town,” she said. “Three-quarters of (businesses) on the block were run by” people of Japanese ancestry, she added.
For example, in 1906, N. Masunaga had a restaurant at 4 E. Yakima Ave., S. Mistui had a hotel nearby and The Pacific Chop House was located at 10 E. Yakima Ave. After a fire that killed three people and destroyed the wooden building housing the Chop House and several others, the chop house relocated to 23 S. First St.
That area is now a parking lot, but two buildings still standing on South First Street housed prominent businesses owned by Japanese Americans — the Pacific Hotel, now the home of Yakima Maker Space; and the former Annex Hotel, which is a furniture/appliance store.
Those hotels rented rooms on upper floors and housed businesses on the ground floor. And a business often offered a variety of services. For instance, the Sunrise Cafe housed not only the barbershop that Iseri remembers, but also a laundry service, Allmendinger noted.
“There were all these little sub-businesses,” Allmendinger said.
The Empire Hotel dominated Japan Town along Yakima Avenue between Front and First streets; businesses were especially plentiful in that stretch, she said.
Japan Town’s proximity to the railroad depots also helped its businesses succeed, Allmendinger said.
“That was the other reason they were there,” she said.
“They came in on the railroad, they went out on the railroad.”