420 Maynard Ave S // 656 ½ King St
Audio on this page read by Christina Chan
The Atlas Hotel opened in 1920 as a single room occupancy (SRO) hotel. Patrons could rent units generally consisting of a single bedroom just large enough to accomodate a bed, often with shared dormitory-style bathrooms down the hall. Stays ranged from overnight rentals to permanent residence.
The Atlas Hotel was one of several Asian American businesses included in the Green Book's Seattle listings. It appeared starting in 1941 and continued through the final edition in 1967. But first, in order to buy the land and construct the building, the owners of the Atlas Hotel had to get creative because at that time, the Alien Land Laws presented a legal barrier for first-generation immigrants from Asian countries to purchase real estate.
According to Dr. Marie Rose Wong in her book Building Tradition: Pan-Asian Seattle and Life in the Residential Hotels, "In the 1920s, there was a noticeable increase in the number of hotels and businesses that were Chinese-owned. Many of these were operated... under state-registered corporations that were legally able to circumvent federal law that prohibited Chinese from owning property. The corporations accomplished something that no immigrant Chinese could do as an individual in that the the former acted as the recognized legal owner but still gave the ability to control and manage the property to the Chinese investors or owners."
Legally, the Atlas Hotel was owned by the Atlas Investment Company, just as a number of hotel buildings nearby were owned by other corporations comprised of Chinese American immigrants who pooled their resources to purchase property through these corporate entities.
These SRO hotels were popular in part because they were often the most economical place to live while building up savings. Some of the immigrant men laboring here intended to return to their families or start families in their countries of origin after accruing money here; others intended to bring their families once they could afford a home.
People came from all over the U.S. and beyond to seek their fortunes in Seattle, and the city's population was overwhelmingly male in its early decades. This gender imbalance was not race-neutral and derived in part from public policies. As noted in the introduction, the U.S. barred Chinese women from immigrating, then extended the ban to prohibit all Chinese immigration. Japanese people were able to immigrate until the early 1900s, when the US asked Japan to limit the number of passports it issued to laborers. These laws shifted over time but remained highly exclusionary until the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952.
In addition to housing, the Atlas Hotel also provided entertainment in the form of gambling, which was rampant in the neighborhood in the 1920s and '30s.
The following testimony came from a witness sent to observe several reported gambling spots and speakeasies and report back to the City Council, which was investigating allegations that the police were deliberately ignoring illegal activities in exchange for cash payoffs:
“…[T]he Atlas is very much like the one on Washington Street, very much the same size. It is known as a hotel, but if you go up... they tell you it is no entrance to the hotel… But the door is wide open, and the gambling is going on freely when you enter...I should say there were 250 people in the Atlas place, milling about, general gambling going on as freely as you please… I don't see how any human being, deaf, dumb and blind, could help knowing what was going on, police officer or no police officer. You could see the money changing hands, you could see [them] raking it in. There could be no question about gambling. You could see the men going about and picking bills and dollars out of boxes. When the cases got too full of money, he went around with a little sack, pulling in the money, hauling it off.”
As of 2021, the Atlas Hotel building is still owned within the same family which originally purchased it, and it operates as the Atlas Apartment Building. The Seattle Times reported in 2019 that the Atlas is now “managed by Barry Mar, 75, grandson of the original Chinese-American owner, Mar Shue, who invested in the building 100 years ago." As reported by the Seattle Times, Barry Mar hadn't known about the Atlas being listed in the Green Book, and his response was, “It pleased me,” says Mar. “I’m an old civil-rights crusader, very involved in the Asian-American community.”Read More