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How Seattle’s Kingdome Protest Saved an Asian American Community

In 1972, the city and King County were determined to build a giant multipurpose, domed stadium in Seattle’s International District. Just as determined to stop it were the Asian Americans who lived there.

Rise and fall of the Kingdome
On Nov. 2, 1972, protestors disrupted the groundbreaking at the future sight of the Kingdome Stadium on King Street. Protestors included local community members from the International District, as well as activists and local college students.
(Photo: Seattle P-I)
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. In recognition of their contributions to American history, we take a look back at a seminal moment in the rise of Asian American political activism.

Even before its groundbreaking in 1972, the multipurpose Kingdome Stadium in Seattle had a long and controversial history. For over a decade, King County officials, along with sports fans and local business owners, advocated for the creation of a stadium that would bring major league teams and large crowds to the Seattle area.

Voters rejected multiple proposals for a stadium, including one for a floating arena in Elliott Bay. Finally, voters approved a proposal for a domed stadium in 1968. The stadium was part of the county’s Forward Thrust initiative, a series of bond propositions for various county improvements ranging from new community centers to improved storm water drainage.

After considering 110 potential sites, the State Stadium Committee ultimately decided to build the arena on King Street, adjacent to Seattle’s International District (ID).

Also known as the Chinatown-International District, the ID is named for its concentration of Asian American residents and business owners. Since the late 19th century, Chinese, Japanese and Filipino people have settled in this neighborhood, forming a pan-Asian community of residences, businesses, cultural centers and social services.
A 1972 political cartoon from the Asian Family Affair, a pan-Asian Seattle newspaper, expresses concerns about the potential construction of the Kingdome. The subsequent article details the community’s fear that the stadium would displace long-time entrepreneurs and residents. “To live in any place other than Chinatown is synonymous with not living at all,” the author explains. ( Source: Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project)
When the King County commissioners selected King Street as the stadium location, various ID groups and community members expressed concern that the influx of stadium attendees would negatively impact the area. They argued that the stadium would lead to an increase in traffic, noise and light pollution. Most importantly, they feared an increased cost of property might displace the Asian American entrepreneurs and residents who had roots in the district.

Despite these concerns, the county moved forward with construction after an environmental impact study claimed the stadium would cause minimal damage to the ID.

On the day of groundbreaking for the Kingdome (officially called the King County Multipurpose Domed Stadium) a few dozen ID residents and local students arrived to protest construction. They booed and threw mud at speakers, chanting, “Stop the stadium!” and “Preserve the International District.”

Because of the protest chaos, King County’s executive (and future governor), John Spellman, had to delay throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. Protesters were chased off by police, and some were arrested after leaving the site.

Less than two weeks later, activists staged an even larger march on the Seattle office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). They demanded the office provide funding to preserve the ID and expand affordable housing for the community.

Ultimately, the protest and march led to significant community improvements. HUD agreed to provide funding for housing and other social services in the ID. The Seattle City Council also created the International Special Review District, a committee of ID entrepreneurs and residents who review proposals for construction and alterations to the district. The creation of the district committee increased community involvement in development of the ID.
Less than two weeks after the groundbreaking at Kingdome, activists marched on the Seattle HUD office, demanding measures to preserve the ID. Marchers held signs saying, “Hum bows [sic] not hot dogs” and “Chinatown is not just a place to eat – people live there too!” (Photo (c) Eugene Tagawa)
The county ultimately built the stadium on King Street, and it became the home of multiple major league teams (including the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the MLB’s Seattle Mariners) until it was demolished in 2000.

While the Kingdome’s presence in the city was temporary, the controversy around its construction led to long-lasting city improvements. Because of the Kingdome protests, federal and city government expanded services to support the preservation of a vibrant multi-ethnic neighborhood.
Emma Newcombe has a Ph.D. in American and New England Studies from Boston University.
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