Saturday, August 11, 2012

Save what's left of Anaheim's Chinatown

The Chinese began arriving in Anaheim in the early 1870s. By 1876, about a sixth of Anaheim's population was Asian. Most of them lived in what became known as Chinatown -- a segment of Chartres St. that is now under the AT&T building and parking lot on the north side of Lincoln Ave., between Lemon St. and Anaheim Blvd. (The photo above shows a Chinese family on Chartres St. in about 1892.)

During the construction of the AT&T offices and the new Lincoln Ave., workers found Chinese pottery and other artifacts from Chinatown. But those were the bad old days of "Project Alpha," and the builders couldn't be bothered with the state laws that protect archeological sites.  They conveniently called it debris and tossed it aside or took it home.
But MOST of the artifacts are still sitting there, sealed up all this time under the parking lot!
Today, the entire property has been sold to developers for a "mixed use" project with stores and apartments. If things aren't handled carefully, there's a significant chance a grading and construction process could damage much of what lies beneath. Members of the local historical community have looked at early drafts of plans for the site, but nobody has seen anything final yet.

I'd suggest that at the very least, there should be archaeologists observing the site during excavation, so they can stop work as things are discovered and document/recover what's there. That's pretty standard practice. (And perhaps some of the archaeologists and environmental engineers who read this blog can tell if I'm right in thinking that CEQA requires at least this much.) 

And ideally, whatever is built on this site would not only blend in architecturally to the surrounding historic neighborhood but would also pay tribute to the areas' early Chinese settlers. Perhaps a decorative arch, a garden, or something could be included to reflect the history of the location.
The image above shows the last building in Anaheim's Chinatown to be demolished. This house, at 119 W. Chartres St., was torn down in 1940.

"Many Chinese engaged in truck farming northeast of Anaheim and their vegetable wagons were a familiar sight," wrote Anaheim historian Leo Friis. "Actually, Anaheim was a good place for Chinese to live. Its citizens never carried to extremes the prejudice found in many other towns."

Millard Sheets' local history mural (detail shown below) at the old Home Savings building in Anaheim depicts Chinese men working in the local vineyards.
Come on, Anaheim! You've done great things in recent decades by channeling your righteous indignation over Downtown's death-by-a-thousand-cuts.  This is a chance to actually right one of those wrongs directly and take back an important piece of your heritage.


Doug said...

I have heard of this site under the parking lot since the late 1980s. Hopefully the developer and the city do the right thing with this important site. Might I suggest they contact an expert archaeologist such as John Foster and Greenwood and Associates. Greenwood and Associates has worked at Chinatown sites in southern California since the mid 1970s, including downtown LA and Ventura.

Keith Olesen said...

One correction--While I do not like the project that is being proposed noting I've seen calls for underground parking. It calls for a parking structure. I've seen 4 or 5 versions, all essentially the same with some slight differences, but to my knowledge no underground has ever been proposed. Which plans were you looking at?

colony rabble said...

The misinformation was entirely my fault, I was under the impression the project was being built above underground parking, must have been a really early version of something that I did not realize had been changed.

Keith Olesen said...

"There are supposed to be some Colony watchdogs who look at developers' designs before they're approved, but I'm told that process has already failed in this case. "
Really Chris. And by whom where you given this information? As far as I know several residents, myself included, have been trying to work with the developer since before they closed escrow on this property. Many residents have meet with the builder, Equity Residential, their representative (aka "lobbyist") Phil Schwatrz, the mayor, and individual city council members, both in city offices and nearby homes. Did residents walk in and have the developer drop his plans and immediately agree to everything they wanted or even suggest they were even interested in what they have to say? No, when has a developer ever done that? But people have been involved. It's easy to start talking this far into the deal and throw around ideas, innuendos, and inaccurate information. Where was everyone with these ideas before the developer bought the property? Apparently the artifacts have been there a long time. Why didn't these ideas and concerns come up before the property was even sold. Where was all the concern when this property, located in redevelopment project area Alpha as you point out, first became vacant? People have been looking. People have been raising questions and making contributions. No completed project has even been submitted to the city. Environmental documents have not been made public because they are in draft form. I have been asking for all environmental documents for several months, including required parking and traffic studies and have been told repeatedly they are not yet available to the public. When they are, or even before, I would love for you and anyone else with ideas about this project, to take a look at them and provide input. Until then, please do a little more research before making statements like the one above.

mitchontheweb said...

One more correction: the review process by committee pertaining to the developer's designs is ongoing; it has not "failed".

However, the tweaking of the building's facade will have no impact on uncovering anything of archaeological significance.

Chris Jepsen said...

This blog is entirely a volunteer effort on my own time. And since I'm trying to cover the entire county, sometimes I have to rely on reports from people (from La Habra to Capistrano) who care about history and preservation and have proved to be extremely reliable in the past. This was one of those times. I vetted *some* of the information I received on this topic, but clearly not enough, for which I apologize. I have already dropped out the offending line. You know I respect you and your work on preservation and the Colony, Keith. Please let me know if I've left anything out that *should* be included in the story. And yes, I'd be happy to offer suggestions when the plans are available -- But my *point* was that some of the stalwarts of Anaheim preservation (like yourself) should be involved. I'm very glad to hear that you already are.

colony rabble said...

OK I will take the bait. I do not think Chris was dismissing community efforts to work with the developer to get a better design, that effort has been made clear for some time now, and we all applaud those giving volunteer time to get a better project. I think Chris' fear is that the Chinatown issue seems to me overlooked, and frankly I agree. If AHS or ANA or anyone has lodged an official demand with the City that this be declared a site of historical significance, holler, because when I asked people from those groups I got blank looks. So point blank, has ANYONE acknowledged this as a Historic Site related to Chinatown? I just had one local historian tell me that the enviro docs were already approved for that site with NO mention of archaeology. I need to check with the City tomorrow to verify that, but if so, I would call that an epic fail on the part of all of us supposed to be watching this, and I include myself in that category.

colony rabble said...

Thank you Chris, for covering this.

Anonymous said...

I am confused . . . is Mr. Olesen concerned about the history of this site, or only its future?

mitchontheweb said...

He's concerned about accuracy.

Teresa Vaughn said...

from reading all of the comments posted sure looks to me like everyone is on the same page only some haven't quite realized that yet. In my very humble wisen-anaheimian opinion, perhaps we should all work together on this project....there's positive proof that there were at least 3 structures labeled "chinese" on the Sanborn maps from the correct let's all research the crap out of it and find out how it's done today to halt any further EIR or pre building processes so that this precious little section of what is now buried underneath a blacktop parking lot can be saved if not only for a small dig project.

Whatever Chris got wrong in his blog seems so minor compared to what he shared with the rest of us county-wide. This seems like a great way to thwart what lies ahead if not only momentarily to save a little bit more of what was taken from anaheim bit by bit decades ago . Whatever i can do ... I'm in

Thanks Chris for sharing and also to OCRabble for coming out and baring some brunt. to Keith and Mitch...let's roll on this...I'm an ANA member now...I'd be happy to volunteer some time on what seems to me to be a killer interesting and worthwhile project.

Chris Jepsen said...

I’ve said this elsewhere, so I might as well say it here too,…

Until I heard from various people yesterday (via phone, email, etc), I had no idea the AT&T site was such a big emotional local issue -- apparently for reasons that have nothing to do with Chinatown. I was completely blindsided by this and I certainly had no ulterior motives in this fairly run-of-the-mill post. As anyone who’s been unfortunate enough to be cornered by me at a cocktail party will tell you, I really *have* no other interests beyond local history.

This is hardly the first time I’ve said, “Be careful where you dig, and document what you find, in accordance with state laws,” when a potentially significant O.C. archaeological site was about to be developed.

I’m a historian, not a preservationist. And based on history, I’m resigned to the fact that sites like this will be developed again and again. That’s California. My interest in what is or isn’t built on any particular chunk of land is roughly zero. My interest is in recording a bit of history during the process -- whether it’s in Anaheim or La Habra or San Clemente. (But for what it's worth, I have no doubt that this project will be better for the input from neighbors and the city.)

Anyone involved in O.C. history knows how I feel about Anaheim, the Colony, and the Anaheim Historical Society. So much good has been done there, and for a decade I’ve been pointing that fact out to groups and individuals across the region as an example of what works. As Teri pointed out, we're all on the same side here.

Peace, love, and local history.


OCKid said...

Going back to Doug's first comment, there was also a major project done in the 1980s on Riverside's Chinatown. They were collecting information on other Southern California Chinatowns for comparision, and I sent them some information on Orange County, including photos of Anaheim's Chinatown I got from the late Alan La Mont. Not sure if that was the same site, or what became of the original photos after Alan's death, but Riverside should still have the copies.
Phil B.

Teresa Vaughn said...

Preservation = history. you can't have one without the other. are one of the best preservationists I know! your blog proves that every single week!