Mossback’s Northwest: The time capsule in Seattle’s Panama Hotel

Some 8,000 residents of Japantown were ordered to leave with what they could carry, vacating homes, closing their businesses and losing their livelihoods. The incarceration turned people into refugees in their own country.

The manager of the Panama Hotel, Takashi Hori, allowed some Japantown residents to leave their belongings in the hotel’s basement. He arranged for the hotel to remain open with white managers, then he went off to camp too.

When Hori came back from camp he sought to reunite the possessions with their owners, but many did not want them anymore, or never came back for them.

Thus was created an unexpected artifact: physical, poignant evidence of a point in time, a Pompeii-like image of a disaster. Some of the baggage has remained there for eight decades. waiting Gathering dust. A powerful symbol of a tragedy that was long ignored by the rest of the population.

In the 1980s, Hori sold the Panama to artist Jan Johnson, who took on the task of running it — it’s still a teahouse and hotel that can be booked on Airbnb — but also of protecting and honoring its legacies. She put a piece of plexiglass in the floor so visitors can see into the basement where the piles of possessions still sit.

The hotel is now on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a Seattle landmark. The walls are lined with old photos and memorabilia of a thriving Japantown that didn’t take root again after the war. In the 1960s and ’70s, most of the SRO hotels like the Panama were knocked down. Change and development challenges still swirl around the district.

Mr. Hori once said “The Panama was always much more than a hotel.” It has many layers. It is a landmark, yes, but also a living time capsule and a shrine to a community deeply wounded by the collective trauma of the war years. It’s a tribute to that community’s resilience and the importance of memory.

The baths closed in the 1960s, but the lockers and advertisements of local businesses are still there. Some walls have ancient graffiti chalked on them. The basement was ordered to be a fallout shelter during the Cold War and boxes of crackers and drums of water still await atomic disaster 60 years on.