Wing Sam Chinn

Chinn, Wing Sam

(1897 – 1974)

Seattle architect Wing Sam Chinn holds the distinction of being the first Asian American to graduate with a degree in architecture in Washington State.

Born in San Francisco on November 16, 1897, Chinn moved to Seattle as a toddler in 1902. His parents, Tai Hee and Cheung See Chinn, who were of Chinese descent, were restaurateurs.

Wing Sam attended Franklin High School and then received his Bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Washington in 1922. An excellent student, Chinn served as President of the Atelier, the campus architectural society. Upon graduation he took a job with architect Andrew P. Willatzen (1922-1926), a former draftsman for Frank Lloyd Wright. Further experience was gained by working with the firm of Thomas, Grainger & Thomas (1927-1934).

Upon receiving his architectural license in 1935 (#TL189), Chinn shortly thereafter opened his own independent practice. Projects include the Harry L. Jensen House in the View Ridge neighborhood of Seattle (1939); the J.A. Samuelson House (1939); the George E. Sheets House (1939); ten speculative houses for Carl Young (1940); and his own home (1946).

Chinn’s cultural connection with his heritage led to several commissions over the course of his career, many of which can be found within Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. These include the Chinese Grand Theater (1924; alterations 1929); the Chong Wa Benevolent Association Building (1929-30, with Max A. Van House was architect of record); alterations to the Gee How Oak Tin Association (1936); the Chinaland Restaurant, Chinese themed café on Everett Highway (1935); and the Arthur Wong Building (1936).

For a brief time, he formed a partnership with Frederick W. Bockerman (1937-38) but economic hardships of the Depression led Chinn to take a job as the Chief Inspector of the Seattle office of the Federal Housing Administration (1939-63). A job he held for 20+ years, Chinn received high praise upon his retirement in 1963 and he was commended for his contributions to improvements in construction methods and practices. He was well respected among the builder community and helped facilitate the construction of thousands of homes scattered across the greater Seattle area.

Chinn was an active member of the Seattle Society of Architects, an alternative group to the American Institute of Architects. He passed away in Seattle on December 27, 1974.

– Michael C. Houser

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