The Panama Hotel was the centerpiece of Seattle’s once-thriving Japanese community, until every one of the neighborhood’s residents was rounded up and imprisoned during World War II. Many stowed their personal belongings in the basement of the Panama for safekeeping—and never came back to claim them. The few who did return after the war found their homes and businesses had been sold out from under them. Japantown was finished.
To this day, the hotel is still stuffed with personal effects and artifacts from the war era. The Panama is now part hotel, part museum, part tea house. I sketched in the warm light of the front windows this week, trying to capture a sense of what Japantown must have felt like so many decades ago. But all I found was an overwhelming feeling of what has been lost to Seattle—and what will never return.