A Chinatown International District renovation uncovered a rare piece of Seattle history inside an old hotel that's the site of a rumored gambling club, massacre and mysterious fire.
The Woo family started to do work on the Louisa Hotel, part of the Wah Mee building, which the family has owned at 7th Avenue and King Street since the 1960s, because it's sat empty for years. With the real estate boom, the family wanted to rent it out as apartment units. The family started stripping wallpaper in a ballroom-like common space in the basement -- when something caught them by surprise.
Murals of men in top hats and women in fur, all dressed to the nines.
The family contacted a local author who's done research for a book on the Seattle prohibition. He had heard of a legendary speakeasy and gambling club named Bucket of Blood and went to take a look.
Down the stairwell to the club itself, he found the murals. From information he found at the National Archives, he confirmed that it was in fact the fabled speakeasy with an array of history.
The three-story Louisa Hotel was built in 1909, and about 10 years later people started appearing there with special cards for a private club in the Wah Mee.
"I heard it was a very swinging time," said Tanya Woo, whose family has owned the building before she was born. "People wanted to get dressed up and they wanted to be seen so they came down and listen to jazz all night."
According to HistoryLink.org, the classy enclave was patronized mainly by semiaffluent restaurant owners and business people in the Chinese community. It hosted some of the highest-stakes gambling that could be found in Seattle and, for that matter, in the entire Pacific Northwest.
There were escape tunnels and paid-off officers, all while winners went home with tens of thousands of dollars.
The author says it was also a jazz club with music so loud, patrons didn't hear when a raid happened in 1931.
Decades later in 1983, a young, 22-year-old Chinese American immigrant named Willie Mak racked up a several thousand-dollar gambling debt with one of the gambling clubs where he worked. In an effort to clear his debts, Mak singled out the wealthy Wah Mee as the target for a heist-and-killing like no other in Seattle.
Mak enlisted the help of two other young men. Shortly before midnight on Feb. 18, 1983, they entered the Wah Mee Club and hog-tied victims before opening fire.
Thirteen people were shot to death. It’s still one of the deadliest mass murders in Seattle to this day.
Since then, the city's first Chinese bakery opened, along with a seafood restaurant and book store. For years the building was in danger of collapsing.
But then a mysterious fire on Christmas Eve destroyed the building; the cause of the fire couldn't be determined by investigators or the family.
The building was partially demolished in 2015. The Woo family hopes to restore the storefronts to what they looked like in 1909.
"This building has been around 100 years and we want it to be around another 100," Woo said.
Flames did damage part of the murals, but Woo's family is working with a professional conservator to restore it.
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