Fire Burns Historic Seattle Building Where Wah Mee Massacre Took Place

Dec 27, 2013

A Seattle Fire truck retracts a ladder from the Hudson Building in the International District where a fire burned the upper floors of a century-old brick building.
A Seattle Fire truck retracts a ladder from the Hudson Building in the International District where a fire burned the upper floors of a century-old brick building.
Credit KUOW Photo/Phyllis Fletcher

Djin Kwie Liem estimates he lost 20,000 fish.

“Goldfish, koi, tropical fish,” he specified.

The fish were in the aquarium shop he ran for 34 years in the King Street building that caught fire on Christmas Eve. The building, an unstable brick structure in the city’s International District is, in a sense, a nod to days gone by, to a time when Seattle was grittier and when brick buildings housed underground gambling parlors.

Liem's fish were there in 1983, when three men entered the Chinatown building and gunned down 14 people in the club downstairs. Known now as the Wah Mee massacre, it remains the bloodiest shooting in Washington state history.  

City officials survey the fire damage at a King Street building. The fire started on Christmas Eve.
City officials survey the fire damage at a King Street building. The fire started on Christmas Eve.
Credit KUOW Photo/Phyllis Fletcher

Liem said the fire department let him return to the building for one thing: vacation photos from his last trip to China. He said he didn’t even try to save any fish. And he knows there’s no way they survived without his care, and electricity.

No air, no heater, he said.

He took a call, speaking in Mandarin, as he waited on the street for word from the fire department.

Several other long-time Chinese businesses in the building have been closed: a gift shop, an herb shop, a seafood restaurant and an acupuncture center across the alley. They're part of the “collapse zone” the fire department has taped off.

Also closed was Mon Hei, a popular bakery. Florentino Francisco, who works right across the street in the Beacon hip hop dance studio, said he went about once a week.

“I get the char siu buns – the barbecue pork hum bao,” Francisco said.

On the sidewalk a potential bakery customer had come from out of town to pick up a surprise for his brother. When he found out Mon Hei was closed he wasn’t interested in going anywhere else.

The owners of the bakery and the aquarium say they would like to reopen.

Produced for the Web by Isolde Raftery.