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Building restoration reveals stunning prohibition-era murals

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During post-fire rehab to the Louisa Hotel, the building’s owners uncovered some long-lost art

One of several murals discovered during rehab work on the Louisa Hotel.
Courtesy of Tanya Woo

The Louisa Building, also known as the Louisa Hotel or the Hudson Building, is filled with layers of history. First built in 1909, it started its life as a single-room occupancy residence. In 1983, it was the site of the Wah Mee Massacre, which claimed the lives of 13 people. After the tragedy, the the building’s occupants pressed on; it housed some of the longest-running small businesses in the International District, from Liem’s Pet Shop to Sea Garden Seafood Restaurant, until a fire wiped them out in 2013.

It’s in recent restoration work that Tanya Woo, whose family has owned the building for decades, found another piece of the building’s history: prohibition-era murals recalling the building’s time hosting a jazz club.

One set of murals Woo uncovered—the first ones to gain media attention—she said, “depict what we think are African Americans in prohibition attire,” likely from the 1920s, based on their clothes and hairstyle. A faded sign among the murals identified the venue as Club Royale.

“We are working really hard to save these murals and we hope that we can make these open to the public by replacing a door with glass,” Woo told Curbed Seattle over email. “We’ll have to do some grant writing to find the funds to restore and preserve them. When we are done, anyone passing by on Seventh Street will be able to see them and learn about our shared jazz history.”

Within the past couple of weeks, demolition workers found even more murals of peacocks and flowers. “We are not sure if we can save these murals just yet because this area of the building will turn into a parking garage and we will need to fire proof that wall,” said Woo. “If we end up having to demolish the wall my brother and I are planning to try and take the murals off the wall.”

After the fire, part of the building was too dangerous to restore and required demolition—but even more murals, said Woo, covered the second-floor former gambling hall. “It was much to dangerous to enter that area but we snuck in and got some pictures of it.”

Murals aren’t the only historic part of the building Woo is looking to save—wood trim, doors, and other historical artifacts were recovered and will be “brought back in when the building is done.”

Woo said construction “is going well so far,” adding that “the restaurant doesn’t smell like three-year-old burnt seafood anymore.”

The building is destined to become affordable apartments after restoration is complete, with new retail space below.