Asian/Pacific Historic Thematic District

The Asian/Pacific Thematic Historic District is comprised of 20 structures located in two distinct areas, the Gaslamp Quarter and the Marina area. (The two areas are located along Market Street between Second Avenue and Seventh Avenue, downtown San Diego.) The various properties included are those which have strong ties to the Asian/Pacific community either through ownership, business or cultural use. Some of the structures reflect their Asian/Pacific association through architectural treatments such as the use of patterned glazed ceramic tiles, overhanging balconies, clay tile roofs, and other minor distinguishable attributes. These are also the only remnant structures in downtown San Diego historically/culturally associated with the Asian/Pacific community. Some are still occupied by Chinese or Asian residents and businesses and many have retained their historic uses. Some buildings also reflect unique ethnic adaptations of vernacular American architecture which convey an oriental feeling or appearance.

Located in the Gaslamp Quarter National Register Historic District are 13 buildings. The Gaslamp Quarter historically contained a concentration of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and Hawaiian owned buildings and businesses throughout the early historic development of San Diego's New Town.

The Marina area traditionally considered Chinatown or the Chinese district and is centered along Third Avenue. The seven structures located here are most directly associated with the Chinese community, but have also have identified with other Asian groups as well. This area also includes the Chinese Mission Building reconstructed on the northwest corner of Third Avenue and "J" Street. Three structures in the Marina area were determined eligible for the listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The buildings are the Plants and Fireproofing Building, the Ying-On Merchants and Labor Benevolent Association Building and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association Building.

In 1850, William Heath Davis, nicknamed "Kanaka Bill," founded New Town San Diego. Davis was born of Hawaiian and Haole parentage and arrived in San Diego from his native Honolulu, Hawaii when he was 10 years old. By the time he was 28, Davis, had become a major trader in San Diego with China and other Pacific Rim ports. Before his thirtieth birthday, Davis and Associates laid out over 160 acres of "New Town" and built the City's Wharf and Warehouse. Unfortunately by late 1851, new businesses and government agencies which were expected to develop in New Town as a result of California being inducted into the Union and the Gold Rush in the North never materialized. "New Town" was to remain dormant for the next decade. Today the Davis family home is a museum on the corner of Fourth and Island avenues in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter. Pantoja Park, located on Columbia and G streets was dedicated in 1850 by Davis as the first "open space" in San Diego and can still be visited as a reminder of this early pioneer.

In 1869, New Town began to show new life when Alonzo Horton began revitalizing New Town, San Diego, and the Asian/Pacific population in downtown San Diego began to grow. A Chinese fishing colony developed early along the edge of the bay and laborers, farmers, shop owners and others soon followed. As in most cities, and with most ethnic groups, the Chinese congregated in a district, in close proximity to the waterfront fishing colony and Horton's Wharf which provided jobs off loading the many ships arriving in San Diego Bay.

The buildings of the Chinese Quarter housed laundries, restaurants, produce centers, stores, dwellings, and gambling emporiums.

In 1872, Horton sold a lot on Third Avenue to Wo Sung and Company, a branch of the large Chinese importing house of that name in San Francisco. The company built a large two-story brick store on the property. A joss house (Chinese temple) and three fraternal organizations were also established in this area.

Later the major businesses of the surrounding area were prostitution and saloons. These businesses expanded and soon encompassed much of the original Chinese district. An eclectic mixture of stores, vegetable dealers, restaurants, laundries, residences, gambling emporiums and other uses in the Chinese Quarter existed side by side with the dance halls, saloons and brothels of their Caucasian neighbors in the Stingaree District.

It was these later non-Chinese businesses which attracted most of the attention and press coverage. This led to several attempts over the years on the part of public officials to close down the brothels.

In 1888, a local reporter estimated the number of Chinese residents in San Diego at 5,000. This growing community continued to celebrate their traditional holidays. As an example, on October 15th, a holiday in 1871, found the Chinese residents dressed in their best clothes and setting off firecrackers while sharing community meals. They celebrated the Chinese New Year which began on February 14, 1877, and their Christmas which began on December 20, 1884, as evidence of adherence to their heritage and traditions. A long and extensive explanation of events taking place in the San Diego Chinese Quarter was carried in the press as a way of letting other people know that all were welcome to share their holidays. These also included annual feasts of the Chinese Free Masons of America who held the celebrations in front of the Joss House such as the one on April 22, 1897, and another big celebration of the Chinese New Year in February 1908.

The headlines of the San Diego Union of February 11, 1888, stated, "Chinese in Clover, Pagan New Year Opened with Great Relief, Mongolian Quarter Scenes." Reporters told of the popping of firecrackers, the burning of punk and the worship of Joss greeting the Celestial holiday. Houses were decorated in the Quarter with lanterns and while lilies; restaurants were very busy and a throng of American visitors invaded the Chinese Quarter pressing in on the good natured "Mongolians" who had secured permits from the City to allow the celebration to continue for a week.

The demographics of the original Asian District show that buildings and businesses began their development by the Chinese as early as the 1860's. Between 1860 and 1890, the early settlement included Chinese and Filipino businesses located in the area bounded by Second Avenue, Sixth Avenue, "E" Street, and "K" Street. There were at least 24 Asian/Pacific buildings/businesses in the area at this time.

A second period occurs between 1891 and 1910 with a notable increase of Asian/Pacific buildings/businesses between Broadway and "K" Street, Second Avenue to Sixth Avenue. The majority of the approximately fifty businesses/buildings, were concentrated between Second Avenue to Sixth Avenue, Market to "J" Street. Many of these were newly arrived Japanese merchants who by 1907 had formed a nucleus around 5th and Market Street.

The Japanese "community" was composed of restaurants, barber shops, pool halls and boarding houses. In addition, a Japanese Congregational Mission established on 8th Street, began teaching English at night along with religion. By the end of the decade, a number of pioneer Issei had become well established businessmen. It was at this time also that Japanese fishermen began to arrive in San Diego in increasing numbers. The Japanese interest in the Area's fishing potential dates back to 1908 when Kikuchi Jiroichi began to catch abalone with a small group of fishermen he employed. From this early beginning the local Japanese fishery grew until 1918 when it was estimated by the Department of Commerce that fifty percent of all the crews in San Diego were Japanese. One reason that many Japanese fishermen chose this area was the success of the M.K. Fishing Company headed by Kondo Masaharu and managed by Abe Tokunosuke. The Japanese sailing from San Diego were responsible for introducing the bamboo pole to tuna fishing, as well as long range refrigerated boats.

In 1903, the first recorded group of Filipino immigrants arrived in San Diego and they were students enrolled at the State Normal School (now San Diego State University). The school Registrar's records show the students were between the ages of 16 and 25, and were teachers in Philippine elementary schools.

The businesses within this area were predominately restaurants, wash houses, merchandise sales and housing. The Chinese had primarily grocery stores, laundries, residences and social halls, while the Japanese developed such businesses as barber shops, billiard halls and groceries as new additions to the area.

A third period of development for the Asian Community is from 1911 to 1930. At this time, the number of businesses/buildings is close to 100 and there is a congenial combination of many Asian ethnic groups. Chinese, Filipino, Japanese and Hawaiian businesses flourished side by side during this time with a remarkable concentration between Market and "J" Street, Second and Sixth Avenues.

Between the late 1900's and 1946, various groups of Filipino immigrants came to San Diego. The young Filipino men who enlisted in the United States Navy Recruiting Offices in the Islands, have comprised a large bulk of the migrants ever since the 1900's.

The Japanese disappeared from the District in 1942 as a result of the U.S. Government relocation program of World War II. After the war, some of the businesses were replaced by Filipino tenants, but the Japanese never fully returned to the District and this signaled the ultimate decline of the area beginning in the late 1940's.

(The above information was provided by the Centre City Development Corporation, a redevelopment agency of the City of San Diego. Their address is 225 Broadway, Suite 1100, San Diego, CA 92101-5074, (619) 235-2200.) The editor thanks Ms. Beverly Schroeder and her staff for providing the written information and the photographs.


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