Woo, Benjamin

(1923 - 2008)

Engineer/Architect Benjamin Woo was born in Seattle on June 15, 1923. He attended Queen Anne High School in Seattle and upon being drafted at the start of WWII, Woo studied meteorology at the University of Chicago. During the war he served as a weather forecaster for the Army Air Corps (1943-46). While stationed at the Pentagon, he rose to the level of 1st Lieutenant. After the war he returned to Seattle, attended the University of Washington on the GI Bill, studying mechanical engineering, graduating with honors in 1948.

After working as a draftsman for several architectural and engineering firms including Ray Heath and naval architect George Nickum, Woo opened own his own firm in 1955. Known projects during the early part of his career is limited to a custom spec home for builder G. Bennard Gwinn in the Uplake Terrace neighborhood in 1959 which was featured in Seattle Times.

In 1959 Woo formed a partnership with Seth Jackson and Donald M. Edwards. Known as Woo, Jackson & Edwards (1959-63) the firm specialized in shopping centers. Projects include the Town & Country Shopping Center (1959) in Bellingham; Issaquah Center Shopping Center (1961); B & V Village Shopping Center (1962) in Redmond; Fuller’s Market Basket (1963) in Chehalis; and the Sunset Plaza Center (1963) at Factoria.

Other projects included the First Presbyterian Church (1960) in Renton; the Jantun Apartments (1960); a five-unit apartment complex for Paul Woo at 2410 13th Ave S. (1961); and three model homes for the Leawood Development (1961) near Lake Sammamish.

For unknown reasons the partnership was dissolved and Woo opened his own firm in 1964, sharing office space with architect Leon Bridges. During this time he designed First Federal Savings & Loan Bank, Renton (1967-68); Sunset Plaza Veterinary Clinic (1964) in Bellevue; the first home of the Wing Luke Museum (1967); First Federal Savings & Loan (1968) in Renton; Dr. L.C. Hoover House (1968) in Edmonds; and a remodel of the Tai Tung Restaurant (1968).

In 1969 Woo formed a partnership with Gerald A. Park. Together they designed a variety of projects including the King County Fairgrounds (1970) in Enumclaw; completed several improvements to Seattle Community College (1969-70); the Kawabe Memorial House Senior Apartments (1971); United Savings & Loan Bank Headquarters building (1973) in downtown Seattle; the United Savings & Loan Association - Jackson Park Branch (1975); and completed an extensive remodel of the Renton Highlands Shopping Center (1979).

Throughout his career, Woo was heavily involved in a variety of social and civic organizations, particularly with the Chinese American Community. He served on the Seattle Human Rights Commission (1965-68); and was one of the founders and served as President of the Puget Sound Mycological Society (1964). He was also a member of the Chong Wa Benevolent Association Board (1965), the governing body of Seattle’s Chinese community; and was founder and President of the Chinese Community Service Organization (early 1960s). In 1971 Woo served as President of the Wing Luke Museum (1971); and was a board member of China Club of Seattle. He was also a member of the Jackson Street Community Council and Seattle Urban Renewal Enterprises, all while being a an active member of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. From 1983 to 1989 Woo also served on the Seattle Chinatown-International District Preservation & Development Authority board.

Woo was also responsible for providing the designs for the three foot tall street lanterns that helped give the Seattle International District its character. Sponsored by the Chong Wa Benevolent Association, 119 lanterns were installed in 1962.

Other activities included being Chairman of Seafair (1964); senior vice commander of the Cathay Post of the American Legion; and was the first Asian American to hold the office of president of the Seattle Chapter of the AIA Seattle in 1982.

Woo retired from his architectural practice in 1990 and became the director of the King County Department of Construction & Facilities Management (1990-93). He died in Seattle on Feb 8, 2008.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Times.
Jantun Apartments, Seattle (1960) <br>Photo courtesy of King County Assessor.
Model House, Kenmore (1961) <br>Photo courtesy of Seattle Times.
First Federal Savings & Loan, Renton (1968) <br>Photo courtesy of DAHP.
Paul Woo Apartments, Seattle (1961) <br>Photo courtesy of Seattle Times.
United Savings & Loan Bank Headquarters, Seattle (1973) <br>Photo courtesy of King County Assessor.
Photo courtesy of Seattle Times.