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Hillman City through the ages

J.E. Keefe Block, Seattle, 1915. Photo property of Rainier Valley Historical Society, Accession Number 93.001.029

Hillman City began as a stop on the Rainier Valley Streetcar line in the 1890s. The area was platted by, and named after, the notorious real estate developer C.D. Hillman. Hillman was known for his aggressive, sometimes fraudulent business practices – such as selling lots in the middle of Green Lake to people back East, who then arrived in Seattle to discover that their property was underwater. Hillman lived for a time in the peak-roofed house just behind Lough’s in this photo.

Though it was never as populous as Columbia City one mile to the north, Hillman City had its own thriving business district with a real estate office, grocery and hardware store, bakery, tile factory, movie theater – even an opera house. A circular fountain at the intersection of Rainier and Orcas marked the center of the community. Hillman was annexed to the City of Seattle along with the rest of South Seattle in 1907.

Orcas Street at Rainier Avenue, Hillman City, ca. 1910.

This building housed a cigar factory in the early 1900s. From 1933 to 1953 Lough’s Grocery and Meat Market operated here, as this 1937 photograph shows. Lough’s was a classic neighborhood grocery store, with salespeople who wrapped up your produce for you, a butcher who made his own corned beef and sausages, barrels full of pickles, monthly grocery bills instead of cash sales, and home delivery service. By the 1950s these establishments were being pushed out by supermarkets, which offered lower prices and minimal service.

The 1960s and ‘70s were not kind to Hillman City – though the movie theater stayed in business, showing Asian martial arts flicks. In the 1980s, the Lough’s building became one of Hillman City’s most prominent landmarks, the Hillman City Boxing Gym. Owner Bob Jarvis trained fighters from all over the region, including the young Martin O’Malley. O’Malley’s mother encouraged him to take up boxing because it was “safer than skateboarding.” Jarvis also promoted women’s boxing matches and a controversial “mixed match” between Margaret MacGregor and Loi Chow in 1999.

Lee's Martial Arts Academy in the old Lough's Grocery building.

The building recently received a facelift and is now home to Lee’s Martial Arts Academy, providing instruction in Karate and Tae Kwon Do. C.D. Hillman’s house is still there too.

“Double Exposures” is supported by the Rainier Rotary Foundation, 4Culture, and the Photographic Center Northwest



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