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The Hood

What’s with the Rat?

During WWII, White Center garnered the nickname: Rat City. The possible origins of this name are diverse. The local wartime military establishment was called the Reserve Army Training Center or the Recruitment and Training Center, depending on who tells the story. Often the military would designate an area out-of-bounds for servicemen, and these areas were designated Restricted Alcohol Territory. Some people recall that the youth at the Southgate Skate Center were known as rink rats. Whatever the source, the name Rat City was coined and has stuck throughout the years. Many in White Center hang on to the moniker with pride. Rodents had nothing to do with it.

Image of one of the banners in White Center's business district

White Center Current

White Center is a unique community of approximately 32,000 people located now throughout 2 jurisdictions: unincorporated King County, and the City of Seattle. White Center has the distinct characteristics of an historic streetcar-era suburb, and has retained most of the original buildings constructed during 1912-1933. (King County did a Historic Survey of downtown White Center and is recommending that the CDA designate 47 buildings as local historic landmarks.) At the same time, due to a substantial amount of inexpensive, small commercial spaces and the affordability of nearby housing, White Center has become a welcoming gateway for immigrants and refugees who arrived, settled, raised families, established businesses and grew social, cultural and religious institutions.

According to the 2010 Census, White Center is comprised of 60% communities of color, namely Asian and Pacific Islander (24.4%), Latino (21.5%) and African American (8.6%). The top languages spoken here include English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Khmer/Cambodian, Tigrinya, Amharic, Arabic, Somali and Samoan.

White Center’s commercial district is another example of diversity. White Center’s downtown business district is comprised of approximately 150+ businesses in a 9 block area. For instance, businesses on the main streets include a Mexican tortilla factory, the historic SouthGate Roller Rink, several Vietnamese restaurants, the Salvadoran Bakery, and Cambodian fresh marketplaces.

White Center History

In 1918, George White and Hiram Green found a good-natured solution to resolve the question of what to call the booming community. White won a coin toss with Green, and thereafter the community was called White Center.

George White and his brothers Harry and Will White were among the largest real-estate developers in Seattle. Their activities included the pursuit of oil in Alaska, the filling and reclamation of tide flats in Seattle, starting a newspaper that became The Seattle Times, and Seattle city politics. George White was a developer with experience and connections. He was part of bringing the streetcar line to White Center.

According to Knapp and Young’s White Center Remembers, Hiram Green bought five acres in White Center which became the commercial district of White Center. One of Green’s first buildings was the Apothecary House that included a drugstore and a theater at the corner of 16th and Roxbury. Green also built the triangular Rozella building across Roxbury.

Our Logo. Our Neighborhood

White Center Business District Logo

The colorful, organic rings represent the diverse community of White Center as it comes together to form unity. Different yet the same. The continuum of people and place. A moving forward and in motion neighborhood with vitality and conviction. Seven rings represent the seven continents in which our residents come from.

In the business district version the baskets, which are found in the center of our business district as a sculpture, are symbolic of something we all have and share in our various cultures.

Old Building corner of 16th Ave SW and Roxbury

9601 16th Ave SW
Circa 1969


9621-9627 16th Ave SW
Circa 1937

9609-1619 16th Ave SW
Circa 1958