Central District, Seattle

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Central District
Firehouse Mini Park and the Cherry Hill Community Center: the former Firehouse No. 23, headquarters of the Central Area Motivation Program. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The southernmost section of Central District looks more like a residential extension of International District

The Central District is a mostly residential district in Seattle located east of Cherry Hill, west of Madrona and Leschi, south of Capitol Hill, and north of Rainier Valley. Historically, the Central District has been one of Seattle's most racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods,[1] and is the center of Seattle's black community.[2]


The culture and demographics of the Central District have changed repeatedly throughout many years. It started out as a predominantly Jewish neighborhood.[3] Jewish residents built Temple De Hirsch on Union Street in 1907;[4] Temple De Hirsch Sinai on the opposite corner of the same block is a successor to that congregation; the original Temple De Hirsch is largely demolished, though some fragments remain. Other former synagogues in the neighborhood are the former Sephardic Bikur Holim synagogue (now Tolliver Temple), Herzl Congregation synagogue (now Odessa Brown Clinic), and Chevra Bikur Cholim (now Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center).

A few decades later, the Central District became a home to Japanese-Americans in Seattle. The blocks between 14th and 18th Avenues and Yesler Way and Jackson Street still retain a strong Japanese presence—the Buddhist Church, Seattle Koyasan Church, Konko, Wisteria Park, Japanese Congregational Church, Keiro Nursing Home, and the Kawabe Memorial House. During World War II, presidential Executive Order 9066 made possible the removal of American citizens of Japanese descent from the West Coast. All Japanese residents were immediately taken out of their homes and sent to internment camps. This and many race-restricted covenants to the north and south paved the way for many African Americans to find a new home in the Central District.[5] By the 1970s, Central District became largely an African-American neighborhood and the center of the civil rights movement in Seattle. In 1970, Blacks made up nearly 80% of the neighborhoods population [1] However, it also marked the neighborhood's decline into poverty and crime for another two decades.

In the early 21st century, several demographic trends are changing the population of the Central District again. Low-income segments of the population are moving southward toward the Rainier Valley, while more affluent residents, who might otherwise have purchased homes on Capitol Hill, or Madrona, are moving into the Central District as real estate and rental property become more expensive in the former neighborhoods and commuting times and costs make suburban areas less attractive.[6]

Due to this market pressure, housing in the Central District is mixed, with some homes on the verge of condemnation, and others having recently undergone extensive renovation. Many condemned houses are being replaced by multi-unit townhouses and condominiums. Easy access to Interstate 5, Interstate 90, and Downtown, as well as ample street parking, also make the Central District an attractive and convenient place to live.

Despite these demographic shifts, many locals still refer to the Central District as a predominantly African-American area. One possible reason for this is that despite the decline in the African-American population, blacks have a large presence in the neighborhood. The neighborhood still has a high concentration of black or African-American residents for the Pacific Northwest. It is currently home to the Northwest African American Museum and the northern part of the neighborhood is coextensive with King County census tract 88 which is the only census tract in the Pacific Northwest with a majority black or African-American population.[7]

During the early 1960s, the neighborhood was a hotbed for the Seattle civil rights movement. In 1963, civil rights protesters took to the streets and protested against racial discrimination. Later, they participated in a sit-in in downtown Seattle. At the same time, the Black Panther Party used the neighborhood as a staging area for their movement.

As of 2010 the total population of the Central Area is 29,868 with a population that is 59.6% White or Caucasian, 21.4% Black or African-American, 9.1% Asian, 0.6% Native American, 0.3% Pacific Islander, 3.2% from other races and 6.1% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race consisted of 7.3% of the population. The southern end of the neighborhood has a population of 7,115 that is just over 50% African-American thus making it one of only two neighborhoods in Seattle (the other being Rainier Beach) with an African-American majority population. [2]

Notable residents

Athlete, musician, and community activist Powell Barnett (second from left) in 1970, looking at the plans for the park named after him on the east side of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way (then Empire Way) between E. Alder and E. Jefferson Streets.


The Central District's main thoroughfares are Martin Luther King Jr. Way ("MLK" or "MiLK") and 23rd Avenue (north- and southbound) and E. Union, E. Cherry, and E. Jefferson Streets and E. Yesler Way (east- and westbound).

Landmarks and institutions


  1. Cluster 4 “Central”: Tracts #77, 79, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, sngi.org (Seattle Neighborhood Group), undated. Accessed online 2009-10-19.
  2. http://blackseattle.net/
  3. Seattle Segregation Maps 1920-2000, Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project. Accessed online 2009-10-19.
  4. Mary T. Henry, Seattle Neighborhoods: Central Area -- Thumbnail History, HistoryLink, March 10, 2001. Accessed online 2009-10-19.
  5. Racial Restrictive Covenants, Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project. Accessed online 2009-10-19.
  6. Sonia Krishnan, City Centered in Seattle, Seattle Times Pacific NW Cover Story, November 16, 2008. Accessed online 2009-10-19.
  7. Census Tract 88, King County, Washington, U.S. Census Bureau. Accessed online 2009-10-19.
  8. Thompson, Lynn (2013-07-15). "Former state legislator Kip Tokuda dies while fishing". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2013-07-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

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