By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
SEATTLE — The Eng Suey Sun Plaza on 815 South Weller Street is no more. Fire ravaged through it on June 25, and on June 29, a demolition crew began to tear down what remained. Seattle fire investigators do not believe that fire was intentionally set. The estimated loss is $2.5 million.
Several people called 911 early on the morning of June 25 to report seeing flames and black smoke billowing from the second floor of the three-story building. When firefighters got inside, they reported the ceiling and floor were becoming unstable and had to evacuate.
Seattle City Light turned off electricity to the building, Seattle Streetcar operators shut down the electrical grid that flows through 8th Avenue South, and Puget Sound Energy turned off natural gas to the building.
Despite firefighters’ efforts, the fire spread through the whole structure—over 20,000 square feet—eventually causing the roof to collapse, as well as sections of the third floor.
Building manager Nelson Eng, 83, and board member of the Eng Family Association said, “City engineers decided it was too dangerous not to demolish it.” He added, “We plan to rebuild.”
Eng said it was a decision by the Seattle Fire Department and the insurance company to tear down the building. A member of the demolition crew, Charter Construction, said, “It’s an emergency life-saving demolition.” A structural engineer from the Fire Department feared that pieces of the building could fall off and hit someone on the street.
“It was a shock,” said John Eng, the contractor in charge of construction of the building. “It didn’t have sprinklers because it wasn’t required (when it was built)…. We just followed the city’s code.”
“The building was a landmark at the time,” said Francis Wong, vice president of the Eng Family Association. Wong’s Chinese last name is Eng.
“The purpose to have the building was to keep Chinese traditions,” he said. It was Wai Eng’s idea to have a building for the Family Association.
Nelson Eng said the Eng Family Association did not have adequate insurance to cover their losses.
“We never thought that there would be a fire.” Eng told the Northwest Asian Weekly that all of the tenants were required to carry their own insurance as part of the lease agreement.
“As you can imagine, there’s much that money can’t replace,” said Darryl Eng, a family member. “My cousin (John Eng) built that building for the Family Association in the 1980s. Glad my folks and many of the elders have passed on now so they wouldn’t have to see this. But the one’s still [alive], it’s very heartbreaking for them and they don’t have a place to gather now.”
The structure housed 11 businesses, including the Eng Family Association Headquarters, Kin On Home Care, Sweet & Fresh Bakery, a chiropractor, Shen & Company accounting firm, Suey Sing Tong, Chinese United Association, Hengda Dance Academy & Northwest Wushu, Hoover Law Firm, True North Land Surveying Co., Waters Academy, and Greenland Inc.
Tianyuan Li of Northwest Wushu said insurance won’t cover any of her losses. Though she wasn’t a long time tenant, she rented space in the building for several hours a month. Her GoFundMe fundraiser raised $10,000 in one day.
“I don’t want to shut the business down permanently, because it is my livelihood and it would be giving up on my dream.”
The Association raised funds for construction of the building from seven major chapters of the Eng Associations across the United States. It didn’t raise enough so the Association formed a local Eng and Eng Company for local members to raise the remaining funds to build what is now the destroyed plaza.
The Eng members have met once since the fire, to discuss next steps.
There are more than 1,000 Engs in the Seattle area, said Nelson Eng.
“We want to have a building to attract them to come and mingle, and to get acquainted with one another, to have a place for social activities and mutual understanding, to learn our own culture and so on.”
Ruth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.