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               February 2011

      Charles Hansen, Editor

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  Chinatown of Spokane
  — by Charles Hansen

       When you think of a Chinatown, most people think of the Chinatown in San Francisco, so to find a Chinatown in Spokane seems really out of place, but it did exist and lasted more than forty years. It was located along the south side of Trent Avenue (now called Spokane Falls Boulevard) from Howard to Brown, but the center was between Washington and Stevens right across the street from the police station, fire department and city library. What happened to it?

       Where did the Chinese people came from to make the Chinatown? In the 1870s a lot of Chinese miners came to the area north of Spokane to look for gold. Many mined close to the Columbia River in Stevens County on mines abandoned by earlier miners. In the 1880s the Northern Pacific Railroad imported a lot of Chinese workers to build the railroad across the northwest and eventually clear to Minneapolis, Minnesota. So by the 1890s there were a lot of Chinese in this area and many came to Spokane and settled in the Chinatown along Trent.

       I know it is hard to believe now but in the 1890s to the 1910s Spokane was a wild town catering to railroad workers and miners, so the Chinese opened gambling houses and even opium dens just across the street from the police station (and the city library). The police liked having them close to the police station so they could keep an eye on the gambling and opium, but the ladies really disliked coming to the city library so close to the gambling halls and soon after the got the vote in 1910 they set their agenda to close all the gambling halls, opium dens and even taverns.

       It worked, by about 1913 the Chinese had left Trent and many moved to an area called Trent Alley, the alley between Trent and Main (the first street south of Trent) and there they stayed through the 1920s and on into the 1930s, but by then they were starting to leave Trent Alley and move to other parts of the city instead of just congregating in one small block. The block of Trent Alley where they were located was between Bernard and Washington Streets, and since they away from Trent and Main I guess they were left alone by the ladies.

       What is left of the Chinatown, the police station, library and evidence there was a Chinatown here? Almost nothing, the police station and library were torn down in 1914 to build the Union Pacific Railroad Depot. When I was young there was a row of old taverns along the south side of Trent, but when we hosted the Expo 74 Worlds Fair nearly all of those old taverns were torn down. Today the Looff Carousel sits where the police station was located. The area along Trent is nearly all parking lots, and the block where the Trent Alley was located is now the parking lot for the Opera House (called the INB Performing Arts Center) and Convention Center.

       So what does this have to do with genealogy? Did your ancestor get off the train and stop in the first gambling hall he found? Was your ancestor a lady that after getting the vote, worked to get rid of the gambling and opium? If you look at the area today there is no evidence of the railroads, the gambling, or the Chinese, but they were there and you need to find out what the town was like that your ancestor lived in, not just assume it was always the same as it is now.

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