Two people pose for the camera, one giving a peace sign and the other with his arms around the first and a big smile

PHOTO ESSAY: History in Motion — The Columbia City Historic District

by Hazel Choi


The Columbia City Historic District is a nationally recognized historic district located in the Rainier Valley’s Columbia City neighborhood. According to HistoryLink.org, there are 14 historic spots in Columbia City. Over the past few decades, the area has undergone a tremendous amount of change as a result of development and gentrification.

Some of the area’s community fixtures include the lush Columbia Park, Bob’s Quality Meats along Rainier Avenue, and the Ark Lodge Cinemas. Today, those mainstays join several restaurants, cafés, and consignment stores ready to greet anyone visiting the South Seattle neighborhood.

A group of people enjoy a picnic at Columbia Park
A Columbia City resident named Howard picnics with his family on a Sunday at Columbia Park. Howard often goes on picnics with his son, who has just taken a step. His son doesn’t know how to stay still for a moment. (Photo: Hazel Choi)
A person studies on the steps of a branch of The Seattle Public Library
Susan Altshuler, a student at South Seattle College, spends Sunday afternoon doing homework at The Seattle Public Library. Columbia City residents included a library in their first public building, a Town Hall built by private subscription in 1891. Today’s library is surrounded by gently sloping lawns and clusters of huge maple trees. (Photo: Hazel Choi)
A person stands behind the register at the Ark Lodge Cinemas concession stand
Justin, an employee at Ark Lodge Cinemas, said, “This small and old historic cinema is literally true nostalgia.” Even though there are only three screens at Ark Lodge, the warmth this place offers is beyond words. (Photo: Hazel Choi)
A woman wearing a mask sits with her small dog on an outdoor bench
“Priscilla is the most friendly dog,” Amera Bharadwaj, a Columbia City resident out for a neighborhood stroll, said. “He loves walking here every weekend.” (Photo: Hazel Choi)
A Columbia City Gallery visitor holds an artwork after seeking permission to touch and pick out his favorite piece
Brian Barton, a 31-year-old software engineer, picks out his favorite piece at the Columbia City Gallery after getting permission to touch the artwork. (Photo: Hazel Choi)
An employee stands behind the counter at Bob's Quality Meats
Michael, an employee at Bob’s Quality Meats. This butcher shop has been a fixture in the 4800 block of Rainier Avenue South since Columbia City’s earliest days. “Customers come to our store not only for purchase, but also for pleasure,” Michael said. “I am very grateful for that and working happily.” (Photo: Hazel Choi)
Volunteers pause in their assembly of flowers to distribute and smile at the camera
Volunteers at Southeast Youth & Family Services celebrate the first day of May by distributing free flowers to people in Columbia City. (Photo: Hazel Choi)
Two friends sit outside Olympia Coffee sipping their drinks and laughing
Two friends in purple debrief about their weeks at one of Olympia Coffee’s outdoor tables. The two-story building that now houses the café was built of brick in 1927. The space now occupied by Olympia Coffee was the site of one of Seattle’s first Sea First Bank branches. (Photo: Hazel Choi)
Two masked employees at Super Six make funny faces and postures at the camera
Employees at Super Six bring some energy to the day. The restaurant was originally the site of a multipurpose Columbian town hall, including a fire station, police station, prison, library, and school, built in 1891 to 1992. Over time, only police stations remained here, and restaurants and cafés are now replacing them. Super Six is one of them. (Photo: Hazel Choi)

Editors’ Note: A previous version of this article misidentified the individual photographed working at Ark Lodge Cinema’s concession stand. This article was updated on 09/19/2022 to correct the error.


Hazel Choi is a journalism student at the University of Washington, gearing up to dive into the passionate journalism world. She seeks to have a deep understanding of our local community and is interested in elevating voices from the community.

📸 Featured Image: Hee Kim (left) and Osa Elaiho (right). Elaiho, an artist and manager at Columbia City Gallery, said he knows all the artists at the gallery and the story of each work. “Once you know the history and background, you will have a better understanding of the work,” Elaiho said at Columbia City Gallery. (Photo: Hazel Choi)

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