COMMENTARY: Keeping the character of home

The renaming of Mukai Way embodies Vashon’s rich history.

Update (9/17/21): Due to inclement weather, the dedication ceremony to rename Mukai Way has been postponed to a later date.

What distinguishes one community or neighborhood from another? Maybe a name – for example “Little Italy” or the “International District.” Or maybe a street, “the Champs-Elysee” or “Canal Street.” The name immediately evokes an area, a boulevard, a city, or the experience one has had there.

Preserving the identity of a place is not easy. Drive through the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle today, and it’s hard to find the Troll or the statue of Lenin among the banks and high-tech company buildings lining the canal. Where did the funky neighborhood with the Greek restaurant and hippie shops go?

Change is inevitable, whether or not it is progress. But the character of a place can be preserved by making a conscious effort to do so. The Friends of Mukai have done this by working with the King County Council to establish “Mukai Way” to honor the Mukai family. It recognizes the historically significant Mukai Farm & Garden on 107th Ave SW. It joins many other places on the island that capture who we once were, but still treasure to this day.

Many years ago, when I was a child, my mother worked with other islanders and the county to retain existing historical street names on Vashon. This was when our rural route addresses were being replaced with King County street grid addresses. Mother did not want to turn our street into a SW number instead of Cowan Rd. She wanted to preserve what was distinctive about the community of Vashon Island – our history.

And what names were preserved!

Lisabeula Rd. was named by a Vashon postmaster named Brink, for his two daughters, Eliza and Beulah. Reddings Beach Rd. is named for the Reddings family, who settled there in 1884. And who knew that the name Tahlequah was chosen in a 1920 naming contest for the new South End ferry dock? The winner of the contest, a young woman from Burton, proposed naming the dock after the Oklahoma city that is the capital of the Cherokee Nation. She thought the Cherokee word meant “water view.” It doesn’t, but the view is still beautiful from Tahlequah, all the same.

Now, Mukai Way will honor the Japanese immigrant Mukai family, who operated an enormously successful strawberry farm and barreling plant in the 1910s to 1950s. It is the first honorary street designation on Vashon to recognize the many Japanese American fruit and vegetable farm families who settled here in the early 1900s, only to be exiled and imprisoned during World War II.

They deserve recognition for their cultural and economic contribution to the place called Vashon Island.

Kay Longhi is a member of the Friends of Mukai board of directors and was raised on the island.