Kazuma “Frank” Hirata was a prominent member of Spokane’s Japanese-American community. During the 1930s he was the manager of the Spokane Vegetable Growers Association, a critical organization for the Japanese community’s economic success in the city. Alongside his wife Jun, he operated the Clem Hotel which served the Japanese and Chinese visitors to the city in Spokane's international district on Trent Avenue.
Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the US Declaration of War on Japan and the Axis nations, President Roosevelt and the FBI reacted quickly at the local level to investigate the loyalties of Japanese citizens across the country, including Spokane. Nationwide over 120,000 Japanese were interned in concentration camps.
The FBI arrested and detained Hirata and another prominent Japanese Spokanite, Umenosuke Kasai, as possible threats to national security. Forcibly removed from a wedding on December 7, 1941, the FBI sent the two men to internment camps in Montana. Hirata spent two years interned in federal camps under no formal charge. Jun Hirata and their children operated the Clem Hotel in his absence.
Japanese Americans in Spokane numbering just over 300 at the start of WWII, though generally not interned, faced significant discrimination from the FBI and from Spokane officials. The community lived under strict curfew, forbidden from traveling near bridges, federal buildings, and water sources. Though accosted with unreasonable restrictions in owning and running their businesses, accessing their own personal bank accounts, and leaving their homes, the Japanese-Americans endured.
The Clem Hotel, located in an area specified for Japanese businesses, housed dozens of Japanese American families released from internment camps during and after the war. Spokane, located between the concentration camps and their homes in coastal cities where former internees hoped to return, saw a sharp increase in the Japanese population to just over 1,551 by 1950, an increase of 520 percent. Discriminatory housing policies, as well as a general housing shortage, forced families into relying heavily on Japanese run hotels and businesses. Local laws further limited Japanese families to living in Southeast Spokane.
Today, the area where Davenport Grand Hotel sits sleek and chic is where the Clem Hotel once housed and served as a refuge for people criminalized and discriminated against for their Japanese heritage. It wasn’t until the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that the United States Government acknowledged the discrimination and criminalization of Japanese Americans. Unfortunately, Hirata did not live to see the government acknowledge their mistake as he died in Spokane in 1955.