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Originally published Friday, December 7, 2012 at 10:00 AM

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Atlas helped put Seattle's Chinatown on the map

When the Atlas opened in 1918, owner Seisabura Mukai advertised it as "the finest in the south district ... Large capacity, clean and cozy, catering a first-class patronage."

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ON MONDAY May 12, 1941, a brass band leading at least three floats moved from Maynard Avenue at Jackson Street into Chinatown with a parade honoring Dong On Long, the Chinese Benevolent Association president who'd recently died. Dong, who had lived and worked in the neighborhood for more than half a century, was famed for his wisdom as an arbitrator in what The Seattle Times called "the Chinese colony."

Here in front of the Atlas Theatre, the first float is adorned with a wreath-framed portrait of the beloved citizen.

When the Atlas opened in 1918, owner Seisabura Mukai advertised it as "the finest in the south district ... Large capacity, clean and cozy, catering a first-class patronage."

By early in 1942, Mukai learned that he would be interned with other Japanese citizens and Japanese-Americans, so he leased his Atlas to Burrell C. Johnson, who kept it going by showing second-run double features and keeping it open all night. That December, Johnson was booked for operating a crowded fire hazard. On Jan. 3, 1944, the police routed "scores" of sleepers from the Atlas at 5 in the morning. The Times reported that 20 "were held for investigation of their draft status."

James Matsuoka, president of the neighborhood community council, advised the city in 1950 that the Atlas created an "atmosphere" that promoted crime, and that its license should not be renewed. The police described "trouble with pickpockets, some strong-arm robberies ... and prostitutes." Johnson lamented, "It's a difficult theater to run ... I've been trying to do the best I can." He then remodeled the Atlas with new seats, lighting and candy bar. That summer, during the district's Seafair carnival, the Atlas showed films with all Filipino and Chinese casts.

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard's blog at www.pauldorpat.com.

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