According to author Doug Chin who wrote “Seattle’s International District: the Making of a Pan-Asian American Community” and other books, the Chinese initially settled in Pioneer Square in the 1870’s. Most were transients from Portland and San Francisco who worked in the lumber, mining, railroads, canneries, and farming industries in Alaska and eastern Washington and who also worked grading roads for the city.
Years later, after the Jackson Street regrade was completed in 1910, the Chinese moved up into the King St core. Over the next 25 years, they developed it into Chinatown.
Henry Mar Hing was one of these men. Running an import export store, cab company, baggage handling company, a hotel, and agent for a steamship company, in 1910 he and his seven sons, provided for the needs of the shifting Chinese populations at that time.
His son, Jimmy Mar, now 91, still runs the store. Next year, it will become part of the new Wing Luke Asian Museum which will relocate into the remainder of the building which once housed transient workers and Henry Mar’s Hings many businesses.
James Mar, 91
My Dad, Henry Mar Hing, started this store in 1910. We’re the first Chinese store in Chinatown. The only one left now. Most of them retired.
This corporation called the Kong Yick Investment Company (which had) 200 shareholders put in $200 to start the company.
Our primary purpose was to service all the restaurants in the areas and out of the area. We had about 280 customers all total during those years. … We sell bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and all the equipment and stuff they need. A lot of spices and all that. Soy sauce. Everything.
In 1945 there was still mostly Chinese here. Later, it got to be very diversified which was good for the area. Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, you know whatever, It made the economy a lot better because everybody would patronize each other.
(We also owned the) Freeman Hotel (above the store). Three stories. They were all just transient workers mostly. They worked in the canneries, railroads, stuff like that.
When we had the Blue Funnel Line we used to have about 90 some odd customers come in here every month to go back to China…. The Blue Funnel is a steamship company…. The whole transportation would be covered. The whole thing. Its amazing I can’t believe it. You just have to remember now when you reached 60 in those days they figured that’s the end of the rope. So they all go back home, visit their families, and they never come back. They die.
They come here by train. They all had at least 1 or 2 bags. ….So they pick up all these guys , always on time the trains you know, and we would pick them up, the China Cab Express company, and their baggage, the Nick Fung Express Company, and take then to our store. They gotta eat. We had 30 people living upstairs on cots. They stayed normally about 2 to 3 days. Then they had to get transportation to the ship. Our taxi cab company, our express company. Dad kept the business all in one unit.
1928 exclusion act forbid females to come here, to come to the United States. Even though your married they can’t come. That’s why we have nothing but males here. The canneries the farms, they’re all men. So when they make their money, reach the age of 60, they get on our steamship and go home.
In 1945 when I was discharged I also was the commander for the American Legion., café post 186 – consists of all Chinese veterans at that time. During the time that I was commander of the post they were bringing in Orientals, people that died and no one took care of them. So that’s how I got into the business as a funeral director. And I’ve been there ever since. Butterworths Funeral Home. They’re located on Queen Anne now.