The Chinatown International District building where 13 people were slain in Washington state’s deadliest massacre more than 30 years ago now holds another place in the annals of Seattle history: The cause of the massive Christmas Eve fire that heavily damaged the three-story structure was officially declared undetermined Thursday.
“The building is unsafe,” Seattle Fire Chief Gregory Dean announced at a late-afternoon news briefing where he explained that fire investigators were unable to reach upper parts of the 104-year-old building to carry out the painstaking work of pulling apart evidence and examining burn patterns.
Eight businesses that operated at street-level around the three-story building at 665 S. King St. will be “not to be able to open anytime soon,” said Teri Woo, whose family has owned the site for more than 50 years.
Four businesses — a bakery, a fish store, a gospel center and a gift shop — were red-tagged Thursday after the building as inspected by the Fire Department and the city’s Department of Planning and Development.
Operators may only re-enter for about five minutes with a Fire Department escort to recover valued items.
Yellow tags were affixed to four other businesses on the less damaged east side of the building, allowing the operators to enter with an escort for about an hour to recover belongings.
Timothy Woo, 27, Teri’s brother, said the family faces a “complicated” set of decisions — ranging from repairs to demolition of the building — that will be guided by the advice of structural engineers they will be required to hire.
The building is the site of the Feb. 19, 1983, Wah Mee massacre, when three men entered the gambling club in the building’s basement and hogtied, robbed and shot 14 people. Thirteen of them died; one survived and was able to recognize two of three assailants.