Park Service takes Wing Luke under its wing

Seattle museum gains national recognition, affiliation

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OTHER NATIONAL PARK SERVICE ‘AFFILIATED AREAS’

Twenty-four entities now have the designation of National Park Service “affiliated area,” reflecting a variety of interests. Here is a sample:

• Lower East Side Tenement Museum, New York

• Inupiat Heritage Center, Barrow, Alaska

• Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum

• International Peace Garden, North Dakota-Manitoba

• Ice Age National Scientific Reserve, Wisconsin

• Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, Pennsylvania

• Source: National Park Service

• More: nps.gov/faqs.htm

SEATTLE -- The Seattle museum named for the Northwest's first Asian-American elected official is being given a federal designation that could lead to government assistance and increased national exposure.

Outgoing U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar plans to be in Seattle today to designate the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience an "affiliated area" of the National Park Service.

Interior Department spokesman Blake Androff said the move is part of Salazar's "continuing efforts to better tell the story of all of America and her people through the National Park Service."

U.S. Rep Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, who led the effort in D.C. for the museum's designation, called the museum "the only pan-Asian Pacific American, community-based museum in America, highlighting the issues and life-experiences of Asian Pacific Americans in the United States."

The new status isn't likely to trigger a flash flood of federal dollars for the museum, which refers to itself informally as "The Wing." Not only is the government wrestling with the demand for overall budget cuts, but the move doesn't make the museum one of the Park Service's approximately 400 designated parks, monuments, memorials, preserves or recreation areas.

It does, though, put the museum among two dozen entities that are not operated by the Park Service, but acknowledged for preserving and portraying an important aspect of the American story.

"It is a very big deal for a museum," said the museum's executive director, Beth Takekawa. "It means you have a certain standing of being one of America's most special places."

Takekawa said that in the near term, government assistance may be more technical than financial. The move opens the door to cooperation between the museum and the park service.

Salazar, who served through President Barack Obama's first term, is leaving the job next month. On Wednesday, Obama nominated REI CEO Sally Jewell to replace him.

Wing Luke was the oldest child and first English-speaking member of a Chinese immigrant family that ran a University District laundry.

Luke became student body president at Roosevelt High School, received a Bronze Star in the Army, earned a law degree and worked as an assistant state attorney general before being elected to the Seattle City Council in 1962.

Known for his commitment to civil rights, Luke was instrumental in the passage of a Seattle ordinance banning racial discrimination in housing.

But during his first term, Luke, then 40, died along with two companions in a light-plane crash in the Cascades in 1965 while returning from a fishing trip to Okanogan County.

What was first called the Wing Luke Memorial Museum opened in 1967, largely as a display of Asian folk art.

The museum, expanding and evolving over the decades, is now in its third home, opened in 2008 in the four-story East Kong Yick Building on South King Street, built in 1910 by Chinese immigrants.

Takekawa said she was encouraged to seek the Park Service designation by an institution already on the list, the 25-year-old Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City.

Morris Vogel, president of the tenement museum, said it received $250,000 in federal money last year, and works with the Park Service to educate schoolteachers about "the texture of American identities -- how we think of who we are."