It is generally accepted that the
Chinese pioneers first arrived in Riverside around the time it was
founded in 1870. However, in 1868 Chinese masons were in the area
to make and lay the bricks in the traditional Chinese method for the
historic Jensen-Alvarado house and the Jensen-Alvarado Ranch
buildings. (“Chinese and the Jensen-Alvarado Ranch” by Mary H.
Haggland in Wong Ho Leun: an American Chinatown, 1:
first Chinese businesses were established on Seventh St. between
Main and Market in 1878. An early Chinatown area was located
downtown, near the Mission Inn and a few blocks from the current
commemorative Chinese Pavilion near Orange Street and Mission Inn
Boulevard (formerly Seventh St.).
the Chinese community was forced to move out of their central
downtown locations due to ordinances outlawing Chinese businesses
there. They moved to the Tequesquite Arroyo southwest and outside
of the downtown mile square after purchasing the property along
Tequesquite between Brockton and Pine Streets. This second
Chinatown flourished with over 450 full-time residents and housed an
additional 2,500 people during the harvest season.
The Chinese were
essential to the development and quality of life in Riverside
Chinese knowledge of
citrus, which had been cultivated in China for 2,000 years,
allowed citrus to thrive where many other farm products had
failed. Without the Chinese, the California citrus industry would
never have succeeded.
Chinese labor and
tools, combined with professional promotional techniques, made
citrus growers wealthy and the entire community prosperous, at one
time the richest city per capita in the United States.
Today, Riverside continues to lead the world in citrus research
agricultural contributions included the grape harvest and raisin
production, other orchard crops, and truck farming, which supplied
Riverside residents with vegetables for 50 years.
community also provided needed services by working as cooks,
servants, laundrymen, farmhands, and laborers, among other jobs.
of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and anti-Chinese sentiment, the
Chinatown community slowly declined after the turn of the
century. Most of this population consisted predominantly of aging
bachelors and a few families.
George Wong, Chinatown's Last Resident, in 1968.
The 10-foot high sign designating
Chinatown as a Riverside County Landmark has disappeared.
They had moved out or died by the
1930s. By the 1940s only one resident, Wong Ho Leun (George Wong),
remained. During his tenure as owner, he never agreed to sell his
beloved Chinatown. He remained its steadfast caretaker until his
passing in 1974.
Chinatown became County Historical Landmark #8. Later that year it
received a designation as
State Point of Historical Interest, RIV-008. Chinatown became
Riverside’s City Landmark #19 in 1976. The site was added
to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
After George Wong’s death, the Chinatown property was purchased from
his estate by a development company that planned to build on the
site. Attempts at commercial development were unsuccessful. The
last of the buildings were torn down in 1977. (“In violation of
existing heritage protection statutes, the last surviving
structures…were demolished…” from “Digging to China: the Historical
and Archaeological Investigation of Riverside’s Chinatown” by Clark
W. Brott and Fred W. Mueller, Jr. in Wong Ho Leun: an American
Chinatown, 2:435) The property was purchased in 1980 by the
Office of the Riverside County Superintendent of Schools, bringing
the site into ownership by a public agency.
Soon, the Riverside County Office of Education sought to build a
maintenance facility on the western portion of the site bordering
Pine Street. The City's Cultural Heritage Board became concerned and
required as part of the approval process, an archaeological test and
assessment program which would assess the abundance and significance
of the buried remains. A conscious decision was made to investigate
least sensitive areas of the site. Archaeologists who participated
in the study concluded the site still contained an abundance of
artifacts and had great potential to relate the largely untold story
of Riverside Chinatown. The archaeological study of Riverside
Chinatown drew national and international attention.
After the archaeological testing program of the mid-1980s, there was
a cooperative effort and endorsement among the City of Riverside,
Riverside County, and the Riverside County Board of Education (RCBOE)
to create a Chinatown Historic Park at the eastern portion of the
original site. It was supported by sustained citizen efforts for
over a five-year period. A highly competitive state grant was
awarded from Proposition 70 funds for the site and a landscape
design firm was hired to generate a development proposal. Around
this time, the Riverside County Board of Education adopted a Minute
Order on March 21, 1990 regarding the criteria for the utilization
and disposition of the Chinatown site. From the Minute
Order: “The cultural, historical and
archaeological, values of the site will be preserved.”
Unfortunately, poor communication among city, county, and school
officials hampered efforts for a final arrangement. To date,
Riverside Chinatown is owned and maintained by the Riverside County
Office of Education.
a medical office development was approved for the site of Riverside
Chinatown. As planned, the project would destroy the historic site’s
archaeological remains. In 2012, a panel of judges ruled City
officials failed to consider reasonable alternatives to the proposed
building plans and location. The court also found that the
Environmental Impact Report (EIR) contained insufficient analysis
for the City to consider the environmental and cultural impacts of
the proposed development. The final court ruling set aside the
City’s certification of the EIR, its statement of overriding
considerations, and approval of the project.
SOCC and developers began a dialogue with the goal of finding a way
to bring the medical office development to Riverside, while not
destroying a valuable heritage site. Talks resulted in identifying
an alternative site for the medical office building project, located
five blocks east of Chinatown at Olivewood Avenue. The site was
partly owned by the City and the Successor Agency to the City’s
Redevelopment Agency. On December 9, 2014, Riverside’s City Council
voted unanimously to sell land at Olivewood Avenue off the 91
freeway and south of 14th Street in Downtown Riverside to the
developers. A major hurdle cleared away, SOCC is now working with
City officials to acquire the historic site for future park
Learn more about our
for a signature park
at Riverside Chinatown.