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: 167-172.)
The 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.).
1885, 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. Because of the
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and anti-Chinese sentiment, the town slowly
declined after the turn of the century.
Chinatown's Last Resident, in 1968.
The 10-foot high sign designating
Chinatown as a Riverside County Landmark has disappeared.
of this population consisted predominantly of aging bachelors and a few
families. They had moved out or died
by the 1930s. By the 1940s only one
resident remained and he purchased the property.
1968, Chinatown became County Historical Landmark #8. Later that year it received a designation
as State Point of Historical Interest, RIV-008.
last resident and property owner of Chinatown, Wong Ho Leun (George Wong)
died in 1974. Chinatown became
Riverside’s City Landmark #19 in 1976.
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)
What remains of the site, remnants of buried buildings and other relics, lies
property was purchased in 1980 by the Office of the Riverside County
Superintendent of Schools, bringing the site into ownership by a public
Later, the Riverside County Office of Education became interested in
developing the property for a parking lot.
Public interest and support for the site in face of this development
led to limited archaeological excavations conducted at the site in
excavations were supported by a wide constituency, including the Chinese
Historical Society of Southern California (CHSSC), the Ad Hoc Committee to
Save Riverside’s Chinatown, the Great Basin Foundation, and the University of
California, Riverside. (“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) Other support came from the Riverside
County Office of Education, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, and
the Riverside City Council (including then Ward 1 Council Member Ron
Loveridge, later the Mayor of Riverside).
Author Maxine Hong Kingston (Woman Warrior and China Men) dedicated
the excavation and dug the first spade of dirt in the groundbreaking ceremony.
She wrote the introductions to both volumes of Wong Ho Leun: an American
Chinatown (vol. 1: history, vol. 2: archaeology). Later, she
returned for the celebration of the report's publication and the Riverside
Chinatown Ball (1985), which had actor James Hong serving as the Master of
excavations drew national and international attention to Riverside and its
Chinatown, revealing buried architectural features, recovering thousands of
artifacts, with the resulting research contributing significantly to the
knowledge of Chinese American settlements. According to archaeologists,
the unexcavated portion of the site contains the bulk of the Chinatown
artifacts, preserved many feet under the ground.
In recognition of the significance of
the site, a conscious decision was made at that time to excavate the less
sensitive area and to leave the bulk of the artifacts undisturbed.
the excavation, 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 over the area
containing the extant archaeology. 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.
Chinatown was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
Poor communication among city, county, and school officials hampered efforts
for a final arrangement. County school officials had received a higher
appraisal for the land in 1989 and decided they were unwilling to consider
selling it at the original price negotiated for the park (Press-Enterprise,
February 8, 1990). Negotiations for the sale collapsed. The
City returned the $220,000 grant to the state.
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
The Chinatown Historic Park, once so close to reality, was
never built and the land was left empty under the ownership of the Riverside
County Board Of Education.
the Riverside County Board of Education’s commitment to preserve the
Chinatown site, they recently negotiated the sale of the property to a
developer. While the property was in escrow heavy construction
equipment sat on the site.
Medical Office Building
October 7, 2008 the Riverside City Council unanimously approved the
construction of a medical office building which would obliterate this
important historical archeological site. A vast majority of speakers
from the standing-room only crowd in attendance at the Council meeting
expressed opposition to the project, and turned in petitions with over 1,000
signatures supporting the preservation of the Chinatown site. This
public outcry did not sway the City Council from their support of the developer
and the proposed project.
a last resort concerned citizens formed a grassroots community organization,
Save Our Chinatown Committee (SOCC), and filed suit against the Riverside
County Office of Education, the City of Riverside, and the developer in
included as standard practice in the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR)
for consideration and examination before the report's adoption, this
Archaeological Treatment Plan (ATP)
was not developed and presented to the Cultural
Heritage Board for approval until December 2009, where it passed on a 4-3 vote. It was formally adopted by City Council on
February 10, 2009, over appeals to the ATP, including those submitted by an
for SOCC filed an injunction on Friday, February 13, 2009 to prevent work on
the Chinatown site before the outcome of the lawsuit’s Hearing on the
Merits. By 7:00 am, Saturday, February
14, 2009 heavy construction equipment appeared at the Chinatown site for
three days of earth moving, demolition, and “excavation” over the three-day
holiday weekend. For newspaper
accounts of these actions see 2009 Press
Enterprise articles February 10, 17, 18, 24, 25, and March 13, 20 linked
in the News section of the SOCC website.
the Hearing on the Merits and in the subsequent judgment, Judge Sharon
Walters found that the agreement for the Riverside County Office of Education
to sell the land to the developer violated state law. The Riverside County
Office of Education filed an appeal of that judgment.
filed an appeal of the court’s decision that the City of Riverside did not
violate the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) requirements and
provisions that should protect the site under State law. The injunction issued in February 2009,
preventing further activity on the site while the lawsuit was pending, is no
longer in effect.
CHINATOWN CASE UPDATE!
The 4th Appellate District issued a final opinion on March 21, 2012
agreeing with SOCC that the City failed to consider reasonable alternatives to
a development that threatened to destroy Riverside’s historic Chinatown. It
was decided that the EIR contained insufficient analysis for the City to
consider accurately the environmental and cultural impacts of the proposed
development. The Court of Appeal’s decision will cancel any construction
permits issued based on the EIR. Any new or revised EIR will require
additional public review.
The Appeal Court also
reversed the Superior Court’s ruling that the sale of the property was
improperly conducted. The RCBOE argued that their sale of the property to
Jacobs (which to date has not been finalized, contrary to what has been
reported in the Press Enterprise) did not violate State Education Code
instructions because those instructions apply only to school districts, not
Boards of Education. SOCC arguments that the RCBOE is subject to nearly
identical rules in another state law were not considered by the Court of
Appeal due to a timing issue. SOCC holds that RCBOE’s “surplus” property
should first be offered to governmental units and nonprofit organizations
before being offered to private entities. Also, RCBOE’s apparent disregard
for the fact that this is an irreplaceable historic property with rich
educational value makes their actions appear even more egregious. SOCC will
monitor the RCBOE’s actions in light of the judgment and asks our local
supporters to remain vigilant for any activity on the site.
is Riverside's Chinatown archaeological site in danger?
property passes from public to private hands, there is less protection
available for recognized sites of significance. Just because a property
is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it does not enjoy
Once any site is excavated, it is final; the context for analysis is
destroyed. Standard meaningful
archaeological excavations involve careful planning, time, and affiliation
with scholarly entities or research organizations.
current plan for development includes a “salvage” archaeological excavation
and some display cases of artifacts in the project building’s lobby. Salvage
archaeology normally associated with development projects are often dictated
by the developer’s construction timetables.
An archaeological site with four levels of significance (city, county,
state, and national recognition) deserves more attention and care than
salvage archaeology normally provides.
The Archaeological Treatment Plan adopted by City Council for this
project in early 2009 is
controversial. One of its features allows for the
decision to discard artifacts to take place in the field, before adequate
analysis can occur.
Riverside Metropolitan Museum currently has neither storage facilities nor
resources to cope with the resulting artifacts that would emerge from the
richest portion of the unexcavated Chinatown site. The original
1984-1985 partial excavation yielded over 3 tons of material. The vast majority of the artifacts from the
1984-1985 excavations are in the Museum’s storage.
past behavior as described in the section on “Recent Developments” has
impacted public trust in the approved medical office building project.
It must be recognized that the
developer’s proposal to have the site excavated does NOT preserve the
Why Save Riverside's Chinatown
The site of the archaeological remains of Riverside’s Chinatown has been
City Landmark, a
County Point of Historical Interest,
State Landmark, and is listed on the
National Register of Historic Places.
historic Chinatown site is “the only known complete Chinese village site in
California that has not been subsequently developed and rendered unavailable
for archeological study” (from the California Office of Historic
Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places,
Chinatown is the most complete and representative of the many citrus belt
Chinatowns of Southern California; it contains the remains of a temple, the
business district, permanent residential buildings, and probably areas of
1893 the original Chinatown at this site consisted of 26 buildings, when all
but 8 of them were destroyed by fire.
Reconstruction began immediately and buildings were erected directly
over the old remains, including two brick buildings to accompany other wooden
replacements. The fill placed on the
site over years and the decision in 1984-1985 to leave the bulk of the
artifacts undisturbed contributed to the intact nature of this site that has
remained thus far in situ. More than one strata of archaeology exists
on the site. As much of the Chinatown
site was intentionally buried, preservation of the archaeological remains is
remains unearthed during the 1985 excavation
recognize that excavation, even when carefully conducted by standards of
today, destroys any portion of a site that is dug. When the ground has
been stripped, the site no longer exists, and it can not be reexamined at a
future date when more advanced techniques and scholarly interpretation could
shed light on the resource. Preserving the artifacts in situ allows for more accurate
interpretation. Removing them from the
environment destroys that interpretive context.
Archaeologists recognize that the remaining Riverside Chinatown site should
be preserved in-place for future generations unless it is
necessary to excavate it.
The site represents the history of the Chinese in
Riverside, Riverside’s early heritage, and the development of California’s
citrus industry and agriculture.
provides a sense of place for local residents and others interested in the
Chinese in California and the United States, a connection to the past, and a
legacy for future generations.
Chinese were essential to the development and quality of life in Riverside
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
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.
short, Riverside’s early Chinese population was a vital part of the area’s
economic infrastructure and aided the development of various industries.
These contributions significantly impacted the region, California, and the
the Riverside Chinatown issue is resolved sends a message out to local
community groups and the rest of the public in the state, nation, and
internationally (e.g., Riverside’s Sister City Jiangmen and other Chinese
around the world) about how the City and the Riverside County Office of
Education, both public entities, value and treat heritage resources.
Save Our Chinatown Committee (SOCC) supports the development of a Chinatown
Memorial Park to recognize and commemorate the contributions of Riverside’s
Chinese pioneers, point to this era of Riverside’s history and development,
and illustrate how these events impacted the state and nation.
At the same time, such a Memorial Park
would provide a valuable community green space and protection of the historic
archaeological resources under ground.
City of Riverside:
Riverside County Office of
Riverside Press Enterprise:
|The Chinatown site
is located at the corner of Tequesquite and Brockton Avenues in
the city of Riverside.
Maps to the
Click on image at right to see
stitched panoramic view of the site, taken from the corner of
Tequesquite and Brockton, July 12, 2010
You will see
many of our members and supporters wearing this button: an
image of an unidentified servant from the Bettner household,
ca. 1890. The Bettner home is now the
Heritage House, an historic site managed by the
Riverside Metropolitan Museum.
up photos of George Wong, Chinatown's last resident during a
silent vigil demonstration