Dept. of Transportation
Metro Transit Division

King Street Center
201 S. Jackson St
Seattle, WA 98104
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International District/Chinatown Station-a Cultural Exchange

Click on any small photo to see a larger image.
Downloadable station map [.PDF 845kb] with art locations noted.

International District Station

At Fifth Avenue South and South Jackson Street, the International District/Chinatown Station is surrounded by history. It's built on land that was a tide flat when settlers first arrived in the region. After much landfill was added, the property was the site of the area's first coal gasification plant. Later, the Union Pacific Railroad took over. Metro's station is built on what used to be the track area for the Union Station depot.

If you're curious why there are two train stations next to each other (King Street and Union Station), Union Station was built by the Union Pacific Railroad. Not to be outdone by its competitor, Great Northern Railway (now part of Burlington Northern) built the nearby King Street Station, which is still in service.

The open-air station lies between the Pioneer Square Historical District and the International District/Chinatown. Special review groups in both districts played an important part in the station design. Architect Gary Hartnett worked with lead artists Alice Adams and Sonya Ishii to weave themes of transportation and cultural diversity into the station design.

Legends in their own tiles

The quotation in the northwest stairway from the station platform to the station plaza near South Jackson Street and Union Station is by Philippine writer Dr. Jose Rizal from his 1889 book, On Travel. The northeast stairs, leading toward the station plaza at South Jackson and Fifth Avenue South, contain the words of 89-year-old Seattle poet Eve Triem, 1902-92. Triem's words are from her poem "Train Whistling Sorrow."

Children's art Children's art On the station plaza just north of those tunnel entrances are two kiosks with works created by more than 120 up-and-coming Seattle artists. The young artists-fourth and fifth graders from Beacon Hill and Bailey Gatzert elementary schools-created the colorful tiles on the side of the kiosks. A plaque listing the young artists' names is on a nearby metal column.

Sculptor Maggie Smith developed the program to incorporate artwork created by area schoolchildren into the tunnel art program. Smith brought storyteller Cathy Spaenoli to the two elementary schools. Each month for five months, Spagnoli told stories about different cultures. A week after each storytelling session, Smith would hold a class in tile making. She encouraged the children to incorporate symbols from the stories into their tiles. Many of the images came from stories by and about Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Philippine, Mexican, African and Southeast Asian cultures.

Shirley Fung, 10 when she created her tile work, sums up the program the best. "I'll be able to take people down there and show them," she said. "And I'll be able to say, 'I did that.'"

Moving words

South of those entrances along the plaza is a steel trellis with ivy working its way up along the side. Etched into stainless-steel plates on the trellis cross beams are words of two poems commissioned for the station from poet Laureen Mar. You can read one poem while walking in each direction under the trellis walkway.

Poem in the trellis

The poems are titled Juncture and Idiom/Our Own. Juncture is dedicated to the station as a historical site with ties to the railroad and the Asian laborers who helped build it. Idiom/Our Own is about language and weaves imagery of the ivy that entwines the trellis.

trellis trellis Architect Gary Hartnett and artists Alice Adams and Sonya Ishii designed horizontal and vertical trellises for the four corners of the open plaza. They included seating, seasonal landscaping and ornate lighting fixtures with an Asian flair. Some trellis walls are styled after Chinese windows.


As part of its retrofit of the tunnel, Sound Transit also repainted the iron trellises. Sound Transit worked with the Pioneer Square Preservation Board and International Special Review District Board to make sure the blue, teal and red color scheme accurately reflects traditional colors of the International District/Chinatown community.

The International date lines

performance platform Just south of the trellis walkway is a 17-foot-square deck that serves a dual purpose as a seating and performance platform. Granite stairs and two large basalt boulders support the 2-foot-high platform, made of heavy timbers. Alice Adams styled the platform after the floors and foundations of Japanese houses.

In the open plaza square near Fifth Avenue South and South Weller Street, you'll discover 12 symbols of the Chinese calendar embedded in the brick paving with cut and colored bricks. Each symbol is about 8-foot square. Though the symbols are based on the Chinese zodiac, they are also artists Ishii and Adams' tribute to animal iconography of the Northwest coast native cultures.

rooster ox snake /

If you use the southeast station stairway to the tunnel platform, near Fifth and Weller, you'll find the words of Teresa Schmid McMahon, feminist and professor of economics at the University of Washington from 1911-37. McMahon's quotation seems to sum up the tunnel arts program: "If you follow the beaten path, life becomes somewhat monotonous."


The nearby southwest station stairway includes the words of Chinese entrepreneur Chinn Gee Hee describing a plan to build a railroad connecting Seattle with Hong Kong.

The paper chase

And last but surely not least, on the east wall of the station platform, you'll find a work by Sonya Ishii. Nine 14- by 14-foot panels of painted and folded stainless steel that depict origami patterns-a Japanese art form of paper folds. Starting at either end, each panel is one step in the folding process leading to the creation of two figures in the center.

step 1 step 2 step 3 step 3

Downloadable station map [.PDF 845kb] with art locations noted.

Updated: Dec. 14, 2007