Seattle Now & Then: The Ishii Family Farm

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: The ca. 1935 view looks northwest towards West Seattle from the Ishii family farm. The west pier of the 14th Ave S. bascule bridge over the Duwamish Waterway to South Park can be found between what Nancy Ishii identifies as the farm house topped by a giant cedar stump, center, and the barn, far left. Posing, R-L, are Nancy’s grandfather Tadaichi Ishii, her aunts, Sally (Ishii) Tsuboi and Michi (Ishii) Hirata, her father, Nobi Ishii; grandmother, Hatsumi Ishii; uncle, Masao Ishii; and Hatsumi’s dapper older son, Seichi Takeuchi. (Courtesy of the Wing Luke Museum)
NOW: Under construction, the new bridge to South Park tops more Ishii’s collected for Jean’s “repeat.” They are, standing in back: Brian Ishii, Miyoko Ishii, Masao Ishii, Linda Ishii, Hajime Hirata, Michi Hirata (in printed blouse), Marji Mar (in rear), Cathy Skinner, Sally Tsuboi; and front row: Kelly Liu, Nancy Ishii Martos, Joanne Ishii-Chan, Nobi Ishii, Natalie Chan

Nancy Ishii (bottom row second from the left in Jean’s “now”) figures that this portrait of her family’s farm beside the Duwamish River dates from 1934 or ’35.  Appearing in both the “now” and “then” are one uncle, Masao, two aunts, Michi and Sally, and her father, Nobi Ishii.  In cap and tie, the about twelve-year-old Nobi stands at the center of the group of seven in the “then.”  About seventy-two years later he gets to sit – again at the center – in Jean’s repeat.  (We position them all in the captions.)

What seems like magic is what does NOT appear in either subject – the sprawling 1,776,000 square feet of Boeing Plant 2, nor any sign of the nearly 7000 B-17 bombers that were built there.   The Flying Fortress factory’s first 60,000 feet were covered in 1936, a year or so after the Japanese American farmers were posed standing in their carrot patch by Henry Miyake of the International District’s Takano Studio.  Recently, the Wing Luke Museum called on the community to help identify the subjects in their Miyake collection, and many startling discoveries, like this one, followed.

Nancy, a friend, called for some help in “refining” the location of the farm.  With the help of aerial photographs (see below), the Duwamish Waterway bridge to South Park – seen in both subjects – and some fine tuning from Boeing historian Michael Lombardi, Boeing site server, Mike Prittie and Boeing communicator, Kathleen Spicer, we managed to confidently return some of the extended Ishii family to their farm for Jean’s repeat.  Imagine, if you will, Michael, Mike, Kathleen and I, all huddled behind Jean and his camera on the asphalt tarmac that was once Boeing Plant 2, near its southwest corner, and in the Ishii carrot patch.

The Ishii’s rented their acres from Joe Desimone, the South Park Neapolitan immigrant farmer who was also the Pike Place Public Market’s benevolent landlord.  In 1940 with the Boeing factory sprawling towards the farm, Desimone helped the family keep their planted rows beside the Duwamish River, although relocated about one mile upstream.  However, their kindly landlord could not, we know, keep them farming after the shock of Pearl Harbor.

The fate of the Ishii family and their farm during World War Two and after is an often distressing story, but still one with many happy moments and helpful lessons.  If you like, you may follow more of this on dorpatsherrardlomont, the blog noted each week at the bottom of this feature.  This week both Nancy Ishii and I will elaborate.  Just as likely, we will add an addendum later following more gathering of family photos.

The other - west - side of the farm also reveals its vestige of what was once part of a different Duwamish habitat - the stump. Nancy Ishii also thanks the stump, which was "big enough to crawl into," for helping us locate the farm in other photographs. She notes, "The building on the right is where they washed the produce and bunched the onions." That's the family's Model T Ford - it is sometime in the 1930s.


Below, a few more photos of the Ishii family at Boeing field; the first being a portrait of the Ishii elders who appeared in the original THEN:

Ishiis who appeared in the original 'THEN' photo (L-R): Masao Ishii, Nobi Ishii, Michi (Ishii) Hirata, and Sally (Ishii) Tsuboi
A detail of the 'Then' photo. Masao, his mother Hatsumi Ishii, Nobi, Michi and Sally


Ishiis gather
Considering the evidence
Paul with Nobi
Nancy & Paul

Hey Paul, I hear that you and Nancy have a lot to add – tell me it’s so!

Jean, I think so – ultimately.  While I’m adding a few related features from nearly ancient Pacifics, Nancy is also pulling and scanning a few photos of her dad mostly from the 40s and 50s.  They will be the last items I’ll add to this blog, although they will be placed here when we get them.

Nancy's grandparents, Hatsumi and Tadaichi Ishii posing in front of the original "I-90 Lake Washington Floating Bridge" soon after its was built in 1940.
The handsome young Nobi was drafted into the army while his family was still incarcerated. Here is the buck private at Fort Snelling, in Minnesota.
Nancy Ishii writes, "My parents' Kimi and Nobi Ishii were married in the 1950's. My mother was an accomplished seamstress, and sewed her own wedding dress. She grew up in the International District on South Jackson Street behind her family's flower shop. Look for her in the Cherry Land Florist story that follows."
In 1949, Nobi opened H & I Auto Repair at 1209 E Fir in Seattle. I still remember the sweet smell of auto paint and Bondo dust, whenever I'd visit him at work. There was a constant stream of customers and friends to chat with and visit when he worked there. He retired in 1987.
As a boy, Nobi first learned car repair from Mr. Kobayashi - whenever he came to visit and fix their garden truck.

Nancy suggests that we also show some of the research photos that we arranged in our earliest attempts to place the farm.  She knew that it was somewhere south of – but near – Boeing Plant #2, the one at the east side of the bridge over the Duwamish River to South Park.  Since the farm came first, the plant was a surprise to the family.  As noted above, it was “near” indeed, for the B17 factory eventually took over their garden, farm house, and barn. Here then are a few of the photos that helped us fine-tune the farm.

The first and very helpful clue was in the selected farm photo itself. The bridge to South Park appears in the gap between the farm house, on the right, and the barn, far left. This we noted. Although a small part of the farm portrait, the bridge was in good focus and so we could "read" how its piers were sitting. The red arrow leading to the bridge in the farm photo approximates the line of the red arrow drawn onto the satellite aerial above it grabbed from Good Earth.
Picking from the horde of airways photographs I gathered for the writing of the big book Building Washington (which can be found and read on this blog) I easily found an early aerial of Boeing's Plant No.2, along side the river, the bridge and what was almost certainly the Ishii farm - and one other. I called Nancy and risked that victory was nearly ours.
A detail from the same aerial with the farm marked in red - and more. The "X" is near the spot where the photographer stood and the dotted approximates - within a few feet - what was his line-of-sight to the farm house.
Next we returned to space and marked our estimate of where the farm stood in how ever many years ago the current Google Earth snapshot was made of the site. At this point we began courting Boeing and they, as noted on top, first helped fine-tune our conclusions, and then led us ultimately to the vast and empty reaches of blacktop that replaced the plant and are, it seems, waiting for some industrious inspiration.
Looking north and down river over a factory that has expanded and covers the old farm. Here the factory - the first part of it nearest the bridge - has also been covered with the by now famous faux neighborhood made of burlap lawns, squat houses and parked cars the size of family refrigerators. We may wonder if such camouflage would have been more alluring than distracting to a hostile bomber approaching low over West Seattle
Where the erzats landscape falls over the western facade of the Flying Fortress factory and into the Duwamish River. Looking east the scene was photographed from the South Park side.
Boeing's "Our Town."
Meanwhile - and below - the 5000 B-17.


(Remembering now that this was composed in 1992.) Six of the surviving seven of Tameno Habu Kobata’s children revisited the site of the family’s flower shop, now spanned by the Interstate 5 freeway.  They are, below and from the left, Kimi Ishii, Louise Sakuma, Mary Shinbo, Rose Harrell, Jack Nabu and John Habu.  Two of the Tameno’s 22 grandchildren are also included – Linda Ishii, far left, and Nancy Ishii, kneeling.  Nancy Ishii is responsible for researching the family history.


(First appeared in Pacific, Feb. 2, 1992)

In the 1930s, the decade of the Great Depression, Cherry Land Florists grew from a small grocery store into one of the largest retail flower shops in the International District. These views were photographed in 1941.

Ten years earlier Tameno Kobata, her husband John, and their eight children – six from her first and deceased husband, Teiji Habu – moved into the storefront at 905 Jackson St. The flowers, which at first were kept behind the fruits and vegetables, eventually took over, and the Kobatas’ little food store became their Cherry Land.

The business was mostly the mother’s doing – the father helped support the enterprise by working a second job as a waiter at the Seattle Tennis Club. The family lived in cramped and often chaotic quarters behind a partition in the rear of the store. A barrel with water heated on a wood stove by fuel scrounged from the neighborhood was the family bath, and the living quarters’ few beds were shared with privacy provided only by blankets hung for partitions.

The oldest girls, Kako and Mary, soon became skilled flower arrangers, and the younger children helped de-thorn roses, fold corsage boxes and prepare ferns for wreaths – after they had completed their homework.

In the sidewalk scene (on top) Tameno Habu Kobata and her second son, John Habu, pose between the flower boxes. John, who left home in 1935 at the age of 14 to make his own way in Chicago, returned “amazed” in 1940 to find his family’s flower shop flourishing. Within a year, with his help knocking away walls, Cherry Land expanded to the entire building.

After Pearl Harbor, the business instantly withered. The fear and hysteria of the early days of World War II brought internment for the Habu-Kobata family and 125,000 other Japanese Americans.

At war’s end most of the family was back in Seattle. When their industrious mother, Tameno, died unexpectedly in 1948, sons John and Jack returned to Seattle for her funeral and stayed. In the years after her death Tameno’s many children started a variety of local businesses, including three flower shops – among them a Cherry Land Two.


Above: The Japanese Buddhist Temple on the north side of Main Street east of 10th Ave.  The “now” scene below was scanned from the clipping used in Pacific when the feature was first published in 1992.  Like many other “now” scenes not shown with these repeats, it is somewhere nearby in “stacks of decades” but not near enough to be easily found.  The temple site, like much of this Profanity Hill neighborhood was developed into Yesler Terrace in 1940.  Although now 20-years past I remember well the anticipation of the children as they waited for me to shoot the picture.  Although Jean Sherrard was not there in 1992, he was many years earlier a resident of Yesler Terrace when he was a tot.  Many doctors-in-training, like Jean’s dad Don, moved with their families into Yesler Terrace during, at least, part of medical school.  For teaching purposes it was close to King County(now Harborview) Hospital.


(First appeared in Pacific, July 12, 1992)

When the Japanese Buddhists dedicated their first Seattle temple in 1908, the congregation was seven years old and yet there were nearly 500 members. Meeting at first in a rented house on Main Street, east of Sixth Avenue, the congregation built their temple four blocks east, on Main just east of Tenth.

The title for the property and the charter for the church were signed by two trusted Caucasian citizens because racist federal laws then prohibited citizenship and ownership of real property by Asian immigrants. This discrimination was compounded by the Alien Exclusion Act of 1924, which barred Japanese immigration to this country. The congregation continued to grow, however, with the families that were its members.

Women of the temple post in traditional dress in front of the temple. (like most of the photographs used in this feature, this one comes courtesy of the Temple.)

The temple was included in the old Profanity Hill neighborhood that was ultimately condemned to enable the construction of Yesler Terrace. The congregation then again built on Main Street – further east. In its last years, the wood-frame temple was regularly vandalized by patriots who mistook a Buddhist symbol over the temple’s front porch for the Nazi swastika.  (You can find the ancient design in the top photo used for this feature.  It is above the Temple front door.)

Traditional theatre.
Slapstick, screwball, and/or melodrama

The congregation dedicated its present temple at 1427 S. Main on Oct. 4, 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor came two months later. Within hours, the congregation’s leaders were detained and the church plunged into turmoil. With the infamous Executive Order 9066, the temple was shut down as the West Coast Japanese nationals and Americans of Japanese ancestry were interned. During the war, the temple basement was used for storage of the interns’ belongings; after the war, the church helped to resettle its members.

One temple event well-known to the greater community is the ·Bon Odori Festival. Printed directly above, the night scene of the costumed celebrants in front of the temple is from the 1932 Bon Odori, the first held at the temple. Since 1955 the community event has been included in Seafair. The public is invited to this year’s [1992] Bon Odori at the temple next weekend, July 18 and 19.



(First appeared in Pacific, May 31, 1992)

The American playground movement reached Seattle in 1907 with the  development of a three-acre site between Washington and Main streets and 14th and 16th avenues. It was named Collins Playground, after John Collins, a former city mayor who died in 1903.

The site was chosen because of its surrounding rainbow of races, nationalities, and religions. Progressives of the time believed supervised play in well-appointed playgrounds would encourage creative and peaceful recreation among the races and sexes. The movement’s advocates were assertive about providing girls equal opportunities for physical culture.

The sloping Collins site was divided into three terraces. The lower level was dedicated to field athletics such as baseball, and the upper to basketball, tennis, handball and gymnastics. The middle level was reserved for younger children, and had a wading pool, swings, teeter-totters and sand boxes .

For nine days in the month of August 1909, Collins Playground was made a deposit station for the Seattle Public Library. Of the 465 books involved, 1,409 loans were made and the librarian, Gertrude Andrus, made sure that the children read them. She also read stories to a total of 340 children – in the sandbox. This, most likely, is Andrus with her back to the camera. The experiment was a success and the service continued.

In 1976 the Seattle Buddhist Church, which since 1941 has been directly across Main Street from this sandbox, purchased the playground and developed its middle level into Wisteria Plaza. The elegantly landscaped terrace features an arching bridge above a rock garden and, shown here at the sandbox site, a Tsurigane Doh or, roughly translated, a bell pergola.  [If I am not able to readably find my negative for this repeat from 1992, I will, again, scan the Pacific clipping and insert it.]

If memory serves this is a meeting of the Japanese-American Citizen's League before the backdrop of the Collins Playground Field house in the 1930s..


With the construction of Interstate 5, Maynard Avenue north of Main Street was abandoned. Kobe Terrace Park, named for Seattle’s Japanese sister city, and the Danny Woo Community Garden have since been developed on the site. In the contemporary photo (copied, again, from the Times clipping), the athletic 82-year-old Lulu Kashiwagi has climbed upon the park’s gazebo or observation tower, which looks down the center of Maynard Street into the International District.


(First appeared in Pacific, May 24, 1992)

The Wing Luke Museum, 25 years old this year [1992], has mounted its most ambitious exhibit ever. Named for the decree that interned 120,000 mostly West Coast Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II, Executive Order 9066 is an eloquent survey of a century of Japanese settlement on Puget Sound.

The view printed here of the Japanese Baptist Sunday School appears near the beginning of the museum’s fluently ordered space. Most of these children are Nisei (second-generation Japanese), U.S. citizens born here to immigrants. Many, perhaps most, of them will have had their own families when they were forced into internment 32 years after this scene was photographed.

This is the Sunday school class of 1910, or so speculates Lulu Kashiwagi, historian for the Japanese Baptist Church. Lulu’s mother, Misa Sakura, sits at far left. The baby propped on her lap is most likely Lulu – born that year. Lulu’s older sister Ruth is behind her, held in the arms of a family friend, Mrs. Mimbu. Three of Lulu’s brothers are also in the scene.

Seattle’s Japanese Baptists trace their origins to a night school conducted by their first pastor, Fukumatsu Okazaki, in the community’s first Japanese lodging house, and then in the basement of its first restaurant. This industry soon developed into a Japanese YMCA and in 1899 incorporated as a church. The Rev. Okazaki is pictured here, top center, holding the “J” card.

Churches were the most effective hosts for Japanese workers fresh off the boats. They helped the understandably anxious sojourners find lodging, steered them to suitable employment, conducted English-language classes and offered both the warmth and security of a caring group for immigrants who had left their traditionally strong family support behind them.

Here the Baptist’s Sunday School is posed on Maynard Street. The tower of the King County Courthouse on First Hill tops the Scene. In 1908 the Baptists were forced from their sanctuary at Jackson and Maynard Avenue by the Jackson Street regrade. Within two years they” moved into a second home, again off Maynard at 661 Washington St. This part of the International District is still predominantly Japanese.


Looking north on Railroad Ave. (Alaskan Way) towards the Marion Street Overpass on March 30, 1942.
A repeat from 1999. Colman Dock is on the left. And here - also - Nancy Ishii returns, appearing at the scene's center in the white T-Shirt.


(First appeared in Pacific Sept. 5, 1999)

On Dec. 10, 1942 the Associated Press released a story headlined “Arrows of Fires Point to Seattle.” Later reports, either buried or not printed, noted that white farmers clearing land near Port Angeles started the fires. The result of this and other hysterical news stories following the bombing of Pearl Harbor was an incendiary to the imaginations of West Coast locals, many of whom fully expected Japanese planes to appear suddenly over Duwamish Head.

The bombs were dropped instead on the families of Japanese Americans, both aliens living here (Issei), often for decades, and their children born into American citizenship (Nisei). In “Seattle Transformed,” Richard Berner’s recently published history of Seattle in the 1940s, the author’s unadorned telling of these routinely tragic stories reveals their exceptionally personal dimension. Berner also details the “administrative” side of this moral collapse: the general abdication of democratic courage by public leaders in the name of “military necessity.”

Because of their proximity to the Bremerton Naval Yard, the 54 Japanese-American families farming on Bainbridge Island were the first local group uprooted. Here on March 30, 1942, their guarded line is led across Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way) to the train waiting to carry them to the arid isolation of Manzanar, Calif. (Camp Minidoka in southern Idaho – the eventual destination for the majority of the interned families from the Seattle area – was not yet ready.) Of course, neither the Italian nor German populations living along the Atlantic seaboard were evacuated en masse to whatever deserts might have been prepared for them in Ohio or Indiana.


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