Uncover history by visiting Chinatown’s many landmarks of social movements, sites attributing the lives lost and memories of those involved in the making of our country and history.
The I Hotel, officially known as the International Hotel, was the site of much controversy and chaos in addition to the strength found within a community. The I Hotel was built in 1907 and was originally residential housing provided as low income housing. The I Hotel provided a full occupancy serving as the home to many Asian immigrants, largely Filipino Americans. During the urban renewal and redevelopment movement in the 1960s, the I Hotel was targeted for demolition. The news spurred years of long debates, demonstrations and courtroom battles between the residents and public officials as many of the residents were angered by the eviction letters they received which were first issued on 1968. Many key players in the forefront of the struggle involved Al Robles, a Filipino American San Francisco poet and Jim Jones, leader of Peoples Temple. Jim Jones was later appointed as chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission and soon voted to use federal funds of 1.3 million to acquire the building and turn it over to the tenant rights group. However, the courts rejected the vote and ordered the eviction of the tenants in January 1977. Five thousand people responded by surrounding the I Hotel and barricading themselves behind the doors while chanting “no, no, no evictions!” Police officials were called in to respond, however, Sheriff Richard Hongisto who was also a political alley of Jones, refused to carry out the evictions which led to his own arrest serving five days in his own jail. Despite the protests and demonstrations, the final evictions were executed on April 1977 leaving a deadlock between the low-cost housing advocates and the property owner of the I Hotel. In 1978, the mayor of San Francisco organized the International Hotel Citizens Advisory Committee in hopes of breaking the deadlock but failed to do so. The building continued to be idle and empty of residents while the fate of the building was debated upon. The building was finally demolished in 1981.
However, despite the destruction of the low income housing that the I Hotel originally provided, a new I Hotel was able to be rebuilt again fourteen years later. In 1994, the Roman Catholic archdiocese of San Francisco obtained the site and Chinatown Community Development Center later acquired the air rights. Chinatown Community Development Center then began construction on a new I Hotel with plans to replace the low cost residential housing that the original I Hotel offered. Construction was completed on August 26, 2005 containing 105 apartments for senior housing and a Community Center on the ground floor displaying its historical significance to commemorate the original I Hotel. Priority for occupancy was given to the original residents of the first I Hotel of which only two remained leaving others who were interested to participate in a lottery.
The I Hotel is located at 868 Kearny St. San Francisco, CA 94108
Chinatown's YWCA engineered by Julia Morgan
Julia Morgan is renowned as one of the first female and one of the most important American architects in history. She designed many buildings for institutions with the specific purpose of serving women and girls including the YWCA in San Francisco Chinatown.
The YWCA is located at 855 Sacramento Street San Francisco, CA 94108.
Their Hours are Monday-Friday 9:00am-6:00pm Sat 9:30am-4:00pm Sunday Closed
Many living quarters in Chinatown are provided and owned by the Family Associations. Family Associations are social networks uniting individuals and forming distinct communities under a common last name. Individuals with unique or uncommon last names have the option of attending a District Association based on the area of origin in China. During the period of discrimination and prejudice in the early arrivals of the Chinese, many Chinese relied on their associations for help. The Associations provided loans for new businesses to flourish, represented community members in court cases, connected them with job opportunities, and kept them informed with current news in China and their respective villages. Currently, associations serve as a place for many older generations to socialize and bond while providing scholarships to the younger generations to pursue higher education.
There are over 80 Family, Benevolent and District Associations available in Chinatown today. As more families immigrated to the United States after 1943 when Congress repealed the various Exclusion Acts, many Chinese continue to choose to live in Chinatown due to location, language, and a sense of community and the networks available.
Chinese Hospital was the birthplace of the martial arts legend and movie star Bruce Lee. He was born in San Francisco while his father was on a tour to perform Cantonese Opera. Bruce’s English name was given by his attending physician, Dr. Mary Glover, although some say his nurse had given him the name. Bruce Lee's Cantonese given name was Lee Zhen Fan (振藩). Fan (藩) is the well known Chinese abbreviation for the city of San Francisco (三藩市). Bruce Lee gained his stage names 李小龍 (Lei Siu Loong) when he was acting in a 1950 Cantonese movie called "Kid Cheung".
Chinese Hospital is a not-for-profit, community owned, unique healthcare provider within the City and County of San Francisco. It has a long and rich history of providing access to health care services to the Chinese Community during the time of discrimination against the Chinese. Chinese Hospital is committed to providing accessible quality health care through cost effective means to its clients of various socio economic backgrounds while responding to the unique needs of their ethnically and culturally diverse clients. Chinese Hospital is operated by a dedicated volunteer Board of Trustees who broadly represents the community they serve.
Chinese Hospital first opened its doors to the community on April 18, 1925 as a response to a lack of sufficient resources from Tung Wah Dispensery in San Francisco’s Chinatown—the only health care provider that offered care and service to the Chinese at that time. In 1923, fifteen community organizations came together to build the Chinese Hospital. Today, the hospital provides a full range of services including primary and secondary acute care, ambulatory services, 54 acute care beds, an Intensive Care Unit, Same Day Surgery Unit, Endoscopy Unit, a Level Standby Emergency Medical Service (Treatment Center), Specialty Clinic for Disease Management and Women’s Health, Operating Rooms and an array of clinical diagnostic and therapeutic services.
Chinese Hospital is located at 845 Jackson Street San Francisco, CA 94133
Tel: 415-982-2400 Fax: 415-217-4188
Chinese Telephone Exchange
The United Commercial Bank is the original site of the Chinese Telephone Exchange Company, the only foreign language telephone exchange made available in the United States. In 1891, Chinatown received its first public telephone pay station and a few years later in 1894, a small switchboard was set up to serve those that use the telephone system.
The operators of the switchboard had the challenging task of routing calls for the over 2,000 subscribers in Chinatown. It was considered rude to refer to people by a number which then required the operators to know every subscriber by name. In order to differentiate residents with the same name, the operators committed to memory their place of residence and occupation. They had to be able to speak five different dialects of Chinese, in addition to English.
The company remained in operation until 1949, when the telephone technology was replaced from “switchboard-operator” system to “rotary-dial” telephones. The building of the Chinese Telephone Exchange was later restored by the Bank of Canton in 1960 and is now the United Commercial Bank located at 743 Washington San Francisco, CA 94108.
Nam Kue Chinese School
Nam Kue Chinese School is one of the oldest Chinese schools to have survived from the early 1900s era in large part due to the backing and support of its District Association. Nam Kue Chinese School was founded in 1919 and the building (a two-story edifice with Chinese style façade) was erected in 1925. It was the first building designed especially to house a Chinese school. The school was created and operated by the Fook Yum Tong District Association, founded by individuals from the Nam Hoy area in China. The school was originally only opened to the descendants of the Nam Hoy area but due to the increasingly varying Chinese population from different areas of China, the school opened its doors to Chinese students from other areas of China. Currently, the school offers classes to over 800 students.
Chinese language schools have been in existence since the early 1900s when more children started to live in Chinatown. It is not unusual for children to attend English schools by day and Chinese schools by afternoon or on the weekends. Children are taught to read, write and compose Chinese essays. They practiced writing characters, memorized their lessons, and practiced writing Chinese calligraphy. They are taught the proper way to address relatives, write Chinese letters, and learn Chinese history. Schools also offer Chinese folk dancing, calligraphy competitions and other cultural activities. Due to the Cantonese dialect being the dominant in San Francisco’s Chinatown, many lessons are taught in Cantonese, with a few hours spent on Mandarin. Many Chinese schools were established in the hopes that the younger generation will retain the Chinese Culture and Language.
Mural of Chinese Workers building the Transcontinental Railroad
The Mural reflects the Chinese involvement in building the First Transcontinental Railroad. The mural honors and pays tribute to our ancestors’ contribution and the lives lost to the building of the railroad that linked the west and east coast for the first time. The railroad line connected the cities between Council Bluffs, Iowa/Omaha, Nebraska (via Ogden, Utah and Sacramento, California) and Alameda, California. By linking with the existing railway network of the Eastern United States, the road thus connected the Atlantic and Pacific coasts by rail for the first time.
The construction of the railroad was authorized by the Pacific Railway Act of 1862 during the American Civil War and was supported by United States government bonds and extensive land grants of government owned land. The construction was the culmination of a decades-long movement to build such a line and was one of the crowning achievements of the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, although it was completed four years after his death. The building of the railway required enormous amounts of money and feats of engineering and labor in the crossing of plains and high mountains by the Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad, which built the line westward and eastward respectively.
The construction of this Transcontinental Railroad would provide a great benefit to the nation, its businesses and the overall economy. With the railroad, the nation would gain a quick passage from coast to coast. A trip usually taking four to six months could be traveled within six days. The accomplishment of this great American feat would not have been possible without the extraordinary efforts of the Chinese in America.
The initial start of construction began with 600 workers on payroll but the task required 5,000 workers. The Central Pacific realized the daunting challenges that building the railroad and concluded the need for a great deal of manpower which was short in supply. Out of desperation, Central Pacific turned to the Chinese community for labor. The Chinese were originally believed to be too small, weak and fragile to successfully perform the rigorous work that this monumental task required of them. However, with the successful import of the Chinese already to Hawaii and California as cheap labor for cultivating land and produce and as a method to break up worker strikes and keep wages low, the idea of using the Chinese as labor on the Transcontinental Railroad began to look like a good solution to their predicament. And so, it was decided to hire as many Chinese workers as could be found in California and importing many more from China.
The first Chinese were hired in 1865 and forced to work in severe and often times cruel conditions. Most of the Chinese workers received between one and three dollars per day, but the workers arriving directly from China received much less. However, the Chinese as a whole were paid a much lower wage compared to their white counterparts. White workers were paid a monthly wage of $35 a month in addition to food and shelter while Chinese workers were only compensated with a salary of $26-35 a month and were expected to provide their own tents and food.
Workers were required to perform the very dangerous work of blasting and laying tracks over the treacherous terrain of the High Sierras that rose 7,000 feet over only a 100 mile span. To overcome these physical conditions that the natural landscape presented, the Chinese workers implemented techniques that they acquired through their similar previous situations when they lived in China. One such technique involved being lowered down from the top of the cliff in a basket and suspended in midair to chip away at the granite and plant explosives that were used to blast into tunnels. In addition, workers had to endure the extreme weather conditions that the cold mountains and hot deserts offered. Due to the dangerous nature of the work, many workers did not live to see the result of their hard work and perished during the construction of the railroad.
The railroad extending over the Sierras and into the interior plains was finally completed in the summer of 1868 by 4,000, two thirds of which were Chinese. On May 10, 1869, the existing railroad Network of the Eastern United States and the newly completed railroad of the Pacific were connected for the first time in front of a cheering crowd and a band in Promontory, Utah. The crucial work of the Chinese was honored with a meager recognition in the end during the completion of the railroad where they were allowed to lay the final ten miles of track. This recognition paled in comparison to the hatred and discrimination they later faced including segregation, special taxes and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which suspended Chinese immigration for years to come.
The involvement of the Chinese in building the First Transcontinental Railroad played a critical role in the development and progress of our nation as a whole. Their toil and sufferings working in severe weather, cruel working conditions and meager wages in effort to complete this arduous task have contributed to the making of this nation.
The mural can be found on Stockton and Sacramento.
Chinese Six Companies (Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association)
The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association was originally established in San Francisco, CA in the 1880s and functioned similar to a political organization ruling Chinatown. Their main purpose of existence involved helping their Chinese community in need against various matters including anti-Chinese laws and resolving internal disputes. The Association was formed to ease the process of coming to America and returning to China. Their assistance reached out to the sick and the starving and even took the responsibility of returning corpses to China for burial. The richer and better educated of the Chinese immigrants ran the Association
Chinese Six Companies is a private association, located on 843 Stockton Street San Francisco, CA 94108 and is closed to the public.
Gum Moon Women’s Residence
Gum Moon Women’s Residence has a long history of providing services, support and sanctuary for women in need in and around San Francisco. Its existence began in the late 1800s in response to the dire conditions that confined 90% of Chinese females living in San Francisco to prostitution.
The original Methodist Mission was erected in 1868 on 916 Washington St, San Francisco but its services particularly toward Chinese women in need was not extended until 1870. The missionary was run by Dr. Otis Gibson who had spent some time living in Foochow, China and provided Sunday and evening schools for the Chinese community throughout the Bay Area. Dr. Gibson discovered the unique and tragic condition Chinese women faced one night when a Chinese girl, Jin Ho, was brought in to his Mission after having been rescued from a suicide attempt. Jin Ho, under the false pretense of coming to America to marry a Chinese merchant, attempted suicide after discovering she had been sold into prostitution upon arriving to America. As more girls trickled into his Mission seeking refuge from the prospect of prostitution, Dr. Gibson sought to help these women. He issued a call for the Methodist women of San Francisco to lead this crusade. With the help of only eleven women (lack of more responses was due to the ingrained hatred for the Chinese already embedded to the minds and habits of mainstream America), they formed the Women’s Missionary Society of the Pacific Coast where they planned rescue missions and sheltered girls in distress. In 1893, they purchased a home to shelter girls next door at 912 Washington Street and named it Oriental Home and School. After several efforts, it was finally recognized and incorporated into the church and the Women’s Home Missionary Society.
The Women’s Missionary Society of the Pacific Coast later extended their services beyond those confined to prostitution. During the late 1800s, hard economic times drove an alarming increase in Chinese orphaned and abandoned girls. The Missionary began addressing the needs of these girls by providing them shelter and education in hopes of gaining independence. In addition, the Missionary lobbied on behalf of these women and girls in legal matters by putting pressure on politicians to revoke heinous local prostitution and slavery laws. They fought in court to gain legal guardianship of the young girls they sheltered and fought against their deportation. Their work for women in need continued on for many years and went through many transitions and transformations in accordance with the needs that arose with the changing times. Today, the Missionary continues to serve women who seek a safe place to stay by providing affordable housing in addition to classes. It has been renamed Gum Moon, which directly translated from Cantonese means Golden Door, providing hope that women who pass through these doors will be able to find the possibility of a productive and happy life.
Gum Moon Women’s Residence is located at 916 Washington St. San Francisco, CA 94108