Category Archives: travel

The Panama Hotel

Seattle, Washington

The Panama Hotel, early 20th century

The Panama Hotel, located in Seattle’s International District, opened for business in August of 1910. The five story, brick building was designed by Sabro Ozasa, Seattle’s first architect of Japanese heritage. The building was to house Japanese laborers from the area, but also catered to fisherman heading to, or coming back from Alaska. The International District was known as the city’s “nihonmachi” – Japan Town, or translated literally: Japan Street.

The Panama Hotel provided a full-service traditional Japanese-style sento, or public bath house in the basement. In 1910, most private homes in the area did not have their own baths, so the sento provided a neighborhood service.

There was a separate bath for men, and one for women and children. The bath house is still intact in the hotel, and it is the only surviving bath house of its kind in the U.S. today.

Takashi Hori was the owner of the hotel in December of 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked. 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans were rounded up on the west coast and placed in internment camps. Many local residents approached Hori to store their belongings in the basement of his hotel, because they were allowed to bring only minimal processions. Hori was also eventually sent to the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho in 1942. He returned to run the Panama Hotel after the war ended in 1945, having an acquaintance watch over the hotel during his incarceration.

The Panama Hotel today

With the Panama Hotel just blocks from King Street Station, I decided it was the perfect time to stay at this historic hotel during my time in Seattle.

The Panama Hotel stairway

The first impression of the Panama’s interior is the dramatic stairway to the office, which is on the third floor. This hotel really is a trip back in time, and there is no elevator.

A room in the Panama

The rooms are basic, and reflect the times they were made for. Spartan as they may be, I found them comfortable, clean and they met, even exceeded, my expectations. Each room comes with a sink, but guests share the bathrooms and showers. I did not have any issue with that, and I found no morning competition for the shower.

The “refrigerator” armoire

As a contractor, I loved the building details, as much as the history. The trim, bannisters and railings were all clear, beautifully grained wood. The lighting in the hallways was designed to use natural light as much as possible, and it was fascinating to see that change over the course of the day, although the electric lights were hardly needed until sunset.

Several rooms had armoires that were built out of refrigerator crates back in the 1930’s. The workmanship was quite impressive.

Panama hallway

The Panama Hotel Tea House

Originally, the ground floor of the hotel had a dentist, a tailor, a laundry, a bookstore, a billiards room, and a sushi restaurant. Today, the lower floor is home to the Panama Hotel’s Tea Room. A complementary continental breakfast is served here for guests of the hotel. The tea selection is extensive, and the squash bread phenomenal. It’s a great place to hang out at the end of the day after exploring Seattle’s downtown.

The Tea House has a great collection of historic photos from the area displayed on the exposed brick walls of the two main rooms. The Panama Hotel is both a working hotel, and a living museum.

A window into our past

When Takashi Hori returned to the Panama in 1945, the hotel’s basement was holding over 50 steamer trunks from the displaced Japanese-Americans. Many trunks and other belongings remain in the basement today. Hori made several attempts to find the owners, but most were never located. The owners had simply vanished. A window in the floor of the tea house gives visitors a glimpse of the private belongings left behind.

Personal belongings stored in the Panama due to Executive Order 9066

The Panama Hotel offers a unique opportunity to explore Seattle’s past. It’s a wonderful hotel. Don’t stay here if you need Five Star accommodations. It’s comfortable, but 1934 comfortable. Unfortunately, the front entrance is enough to deter anyone who needs an elevator. It’s a living time capsule, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. The current owner, is the hotel’s third. That in itself, is remarkable.

Tours of the bath house are available upon request. I highly recommend joining one.

The Panama Hotel is a U.S. National Historic Landmark, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

The Empire Builder

Saint Paul to Seattle

Because I never seem to do things the easy way, I decided to take Amtrak across the northern border of the U.S. to Seattle from the Twin Cities.

The Empire Builder lounge at Union Depot- St Paul, Minnesota

The entire Empire Builder line from Chicago is 2206 miles, and I had already done the Chicago to Saint Paul section.

The line originated in 1929 by the Great Northern Railway and James J. Hill.

The Great Northern was eventually succeeded by Burlington Northern in 1970.

Minot, NoDak train depot

The Empire Builder averages 1285 riders daily, which is Amtrak’s busiest long distance route. The max speed is 79 mph, with an average speed of 50 mph.

Stanley, NoDak

I did not get a sleeper car for the roughly 36 hour ride, although they are available. This isn’t air travel: the seats are wide and they actually recline, complete with a foot rest. I did not get a seat mate until Spokane, and that only lasted until Everett.

Sunset from the observation car

The Empire Builder runs the double decker rail cars. There is seating below, but I have always gone up the narrow staircase to the top section. The restrooms are on the lower level.

Since I had been visiting family in Minnesota, I was loaded down with food for the ride. I had no need to visit the dining car on this trip. I did spend a fair amount of time in the observation car, which also offers a basic cafe.

Eastern Montana

Lately, I find myself in no hurry to climb on board an airplane. Plus, Amtrak has been running some super saver fares, so the rail ride and flight from Seattle to Fairbanks was actually cheaper than the flight from Minneapolis to Fairbanks.

But that had very little to do with my decision to ride the rail. I simply wanted to experience the Empire Builder, and this was the only way to get that thought out of my head.

Skykomish River, eastern Washington

The Empire Builder travels through some beautiful country, as well as some that one wouldn’t mind speeding through. It does stop within Glacier National Park, and the trek through the Cascades is simply wonderful.

Cascade Tunnel

The Cascade Tunnel was built in 1929 by Great Northern. It’s just short of 8 miles long. Not much is visible for those eight miles, as you can imagine/see from the photo above. The tunnel is near Stevens Pass, Washington, and there was much grumbling about the lack of cell coverage during those dark, eight miles.

Puget Sound

Like cell-free tunnels, Amtrak doesn’t have much say in the weather either. A fog rolled in for our arrival to western Washington, and not much was visible from Everett on.

King Street Station, Seattle

Our train pulled into the King Street Station nine minutes early. Not bad, considering the distance. Amtrak also does not get priority over the freight trains. There were a few times when we had to wait for a freight train to get out of our way.

Overall, I really enjoyed the trip. Once again, this isn’t air travel. One needs to have the time available to ride the rails. One also must be in the proper frame of mind. It’s a good time to drop the petty thoughts and just sit back and relax. I watched one woman get incredibly upset that we were late getting into Havre, Montana. We had just spent 20 minutes waiting for two freight trains to pass, so the delay was hardly a surprise. She was on the train to Seattle, so I couldn’t figure out why she was so upset. Of course, my lackadaisical attitude about the delay didn’t improve her mood either.

King Street Station

Other than her, I met some pretty cool people on the train, and had some great conversations in the observation car. I do recommend the trip, if you have the time.

Lake Winnibigoshish

Alongside Lake Winnibigoshish in the Chippewa National Forest.

I rarely leave Alaska during the summer, but the fishing is supposedly quite good here. The Boys have already started to make 2019 Spring Walleye Plans.

The weather was incredibly nice for our time in the Chippewa. One day saw temps reach 68F. A campfire was still a requirement. S’mores were on the menu.

It should be noted: The fire was not started, nor fed, the Brazilian Way.

A Map Quest

I’m a map guy. I admit it and I say it with pride. I like to see the whole layout, get the entire picture, as it were. Or, at least as much as one can get, without actually walking the trail.

I was commissioned recently to guide two teenage brothers on their first ruffed grouse hunt in Northern Minnesota. The Boys, aged 13 & 14, are not map guys. Certainly not paper map guys.

The plan was to camp along the shore of Lake Winnibigoshish, and walk the trails of the Chippewa National Forest. My first stop was the ranger station for a decent map.

On the drive up, The Boys had nothing but derision for my paper map fetish. “We can just google map it!”, they claimed over and over.

I tried to explain the need for an actual map. Technology isn’t always reliable, batteries die, charging fails for one reason or another, signal evaporates.

All to no avail. They were convinced that I was a dinosaur.

Upon entering the ranger station, I promptly stated that my only need was a decent map of the forest. I was just as quickly denied of my quest.

“I’m not allowed to sell you a map. It’s not my job, and no one else is here.”

I asked if he had maps available. He answered yes. I saw the evasive map plastered to the wall with a price of $14.96, tax included. A bit pricey, but I offered $15, and the qualified individual could complete the transaction later, upon their return. I received an apologetic no. Getting desperate, I offered $20, but received another negative response.

“It’s not my job. I’m not allowed to sell you a map.”

I wondered if that statement sounded as absurd to his ears as it did to mine.

Then the park employee committed, what I consider, a cardinal sin: “Just google map it,” he says.

It was a dagger to my heart. Now, I wasn’t just angry, but wounded. You know what they say about wounded animals…

The Boys beamed; The Alaskan fumed.

We took two ATV maps that divided the forest. We found them lacking. We also took some specific HWT maps, but found them also lacking. As suspected, we also, at very inopportune times, found the cell coverage to be lacking. But between the three sources, we managed to piece together a game plan, and always managed to find our way out of the woods.

Sadly, The Boys remain sketchy at reading a map, and good luck getting either one of them to fold a map properly.

Deer River Northern Pike

Deer River, Minnesota

A Roadside Attraction Edition:

Not to be outdone by the town of Garrison, Deer River has its own aquatic idol: the lean, mean, northern pike. Although the general consensus of our little band of hunters was that the fish looked more Muskie-like.

Photos were taken of a thirteen year old caught in the jaws of this magnificent carnivore, but they are too gruesome to share here.

The Mississippi

Itasca County, Minnesota

As The Boys and I explored the Chippewa National Forest, we crossed the Mississippi River several times.

Its a small river this far north, as we were only an hours drive from its headwaters at Lake Itasca.

It was a beautiful day to spend some time along the northern banks of the mighty river.

Walleye Capital of the World

Garrison, Minnesota

On the shores of Mille Lacs Lake.