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[TIMELINE] Movement of Chinatown After the 1906 Earthquake

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  • madchinaman
    Relocation of Chinatown by Gladys Hansen Curator, Museum of the City of San Francisco http://www.sfmuseum.net/chin/relocate.html After the 1906 earthquake and
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 19, 2005
      Relocation of Chinatown
      by Gladys Hansen
      Curator, Museum of the City of San Francisco

      After the 1906 earthquake and fire, the General Relief Committee
      proposal to gather all Chinese in the temporary camp at the Presidio
      was quickly adopted on April 26, and a committee comprised of
      Abraham "Abe" Ruef; James D. Phelan; Jeremiah Deneen; Dr. James W.
      Ward, president of the Health Commission, and Methodist minister Dr.
      Thomas Filben, chairman, was appointed to take charge of the
      question of the permanent location of the Chinese quarter.
      Chinatown then, as today, occupied some of the most valuable real
      estate in San Francisco, with its sixteen-square-blocks set between
      Nob Hill and the financial center of the West.

      From a strictly political standpoint this was a remarkable committee
      because Abe Ruef and James D. Phelan were arch-enemies. Ex-Mayor
      Phelan had helped spark the graft investigation which would
      ultimately led to Ruef serving time at San Quentin State Prison.
      Ruef was the undisputed "boss" of California, and served as the
      Southern Pacific Railway's political point man in San Francisco.

      Their common ground was abiding racism and hatred for the Chinese.
      It is remarkable to think that within six days of the Great Fire,
      this committee was appointed and had adopted a plan to move
      Chinatown to Hunters Point. The idea was not new. Industrialist John
      Partridge proposed an "Oriental City" at Hunters Point before the
      earthquake, and it had the support of Mayor Schmitz. Telegrams sent
      by the War Department to General Funston, and the pending arrival of
      the Chinese consul-general from Washington, may have also been
      deciding factors in the quick establishment of a committee
      to "assist" the Chinese.

      The Committee on the Location of Chinatown began, with the help of
      General Funston, to concentrate the few Chinese left in San
      Francisco in preparation of moving them to Hunters Point. But more
      politically astute members of the committee were concerned that San
      Francisco, ridding itself of the Chinese, would also lose its
      lucrative Oriental trade.

      With virtually all of Chinatown destroyed, most of its inhabitants
      fled to Oakland, other cities in the East Bay, or huddled in the
      refugee camp at the west end of the Presidio. There were 500
      refugees in that encampment as of April 26. Initial attempts by the
      committee to concentrate Chinese refugees at the Presidio Golf Links
      met with immediate resistance, and the army summarily moved them to
      Fort Point on April 27.

      But the committee apparently did not anticipate stiff resistance
      from the government of China. Chow-Tszchi, first secretary of the
      Chinese Legation at Washington arrived in Oakland within a few days
      of the earthquake and met with Chung Pao Hsi, China's consul-general
      in San Francisco. They, in turn, met with Governor Pardee in
      Oakland, and told him of the Empress-Dowager's displeasure with the
      plan, and that the government of China would rebuild its San
      Francisco consulate in the heart of old Chinatown.

      Stiff resistance from the government of China, and the fear of
      losing trade with the Orient, ended this relocation scheme, and
      rebuilding of Chinatown soon began.


      The Chinese Cared For
      San Francisco Chronicle
      Editorial Page
      April 26, 1906

      It is believed in this city that reports were sent East to the
      effect that the Chinese were being neglected in the work of relief.
      If so, never was there fouler slander of an unfortunate community.
      One of the first committees formed was for aid to Chinese under
      chairmanship of the Rev. Dr. Filben of the Methodist Church, and one
      of the most effective men in the ministry of any denomination on
      this Coast. From the first the Chinese have had more assiduous
      attention than any other people among us, for the reason that they
      were less able than others to care for themselves. Chinatown was
      obliterated, but measures are already in progress to restore it in
      another and better location, but where it will not be a showplace in
      the middle of the city. In the meantime the Chinese are being
      concentrated on the North Beach, from whence they can be moved by
      water to their permanent location.


      San Francisco Chronicle
      May 2, 1906

      It is another kind of Chinese question that worries the citizens'
      relief committee and the municipal authorities just now – a question
      not of exclusion, but of location.

      Dr. Thomas Filben, chairman of the sub-committee on the relief of
      Chinese and the permanent location of Chinatown, told the general
      committee yesterday that, except for the blunders regarding the
      establishment of a temporary camp for the Chinese, the Orientals had
      been well treated since the beginning of the trouble. There are now
      500 Chinese encamped at the west end of the Presidio, near Fort
      Point. Dr. Filben said it was the disposition of the secretary of
      the Chinese Legation, who is here from Washington, to scatter the
      Chinese through the State, not wanting them to become public charges
      or to accept the bounty of the military or the people.

      There was some restlessness in Oakland, where many of the Chinese
      had congregated, and Dr. Filben expressed the hope that if the
      Chinese there had to be disturbed, the matter would be handled
      wisely and with great diplomacy. He thought a permanent location for
      Chinatown should be established immediately, and he said that the
      matter was to be considered at a conference of his committee, the
      Chinese secretary of legation, the Chinese Consul and others, to be
      held today at the committee's headquarters, 1931 Fillmore street.

      Charles S. Wheeler informed the committee that he had been in
      consultation with the first secretary of the Chinese legation on the
      preceding day, and cautioned the committee, before taking any
      action, to look well into the future and inform itself thoroughly as
      to what influence its action might have on the future of San
      Francisco. He declared that if the situation were not wisely handled
      the bulk of San Francisco's Oriental trade might be diverted to
      other Pacific Coast ports. Seattle was making a strong bid for this
      trade, he declared, and would like to welcome the Chinese of this
      city. By the exercise of caution and diplomacy, he though San
      Franciso might still retain its large Oriental trade, and at the
      same time look after its own civic affairs.

      Dr. Filben said that the secretary of the Chinese Legation was being
      urged to come into friendly relations with his committee, so that
      the matter might be adjusted to the satisfaction of all interests.

      Gavin McNab wanted to know what all the fuss was about and what had
      been done to ruffle the temper of the Chinese.

      "Only this," replied Dr. Filben, "that the Chinese have been hustled
      from one temporary camp to another without ceremony. After the fire
      they were gathered together and put in a temporary camp near Fort
      Mason. Then there was a summary conference of which it was decided
      to remove them to the Presidio golf links. They remained overnight
      and were then hustled out of there and hurried over to a location
      further away, where the few Chinese remaining in the city are now

      A. Ruef declared there was no disposition to harass the Chinese nor
      to exclude them from a full participation in the commercial life of
      the city. He thought matters would be amicably adjusted at the
      conference today.


      San Francisco Chronicle
      April 27, 1906

      The question of the future location of Chinatown was the subject of
      an animated discussion at the meeting of the general committee
      yesterday. The complete destruction of the Chinese quarter by fire
      has given rise to a hope that the Chinese quarter may now be
      established in some location far removed from the center of town,
      and James D. Phelan heads a movement to establish it at Hunter's

      The matter came up yesterday when Rev. Filben, chairman of the
      committee on the housing of the Chinese, reported that four or five
      blocks of vacant land at the foot of Van Ness avenue had been
      prepared, under the sanction of the Federal authorities, for the
      temporary accommodation of all the Chinese in the city. Dr. Filben
      said that adequate sanitary arrangements had been provided, and that
      the camp was well equipped in all respects for the comfort of all
      the Chinese now here or that may return from Oakland in the near
      future. He suggested that the civil and military authorities proceed
      at once to gather all the Chinese and establish them in one colony
      at the location.

      Phelan objected strenuously to the concentration of the Chinese at
      the foot of Van Ness avenue. Although the place was designed merely
      as a temporary camp he said it would be extremely difficult to
      dislodge them if they once established themselves in that locality.
      Property owners would find, he declared, that it was an extremely
      profitable thing to house Chinese. He favored moving the Chinese at
      once to Hunter's Point. Dr. Filben, A. Ruef and others explained
      that the sole purpose in establishing the temporary camp at the foot
      of Van Ness Avenue was to get all of the Chinese together so that
      they might be moved more advantageously to permanent quarters when

      Garret McEnerney said: "I think it will prove difficult for the
      Chinese to get building permits from the Mayor and the Board of
      Public Works for the erection of any permanent structures at the
      foot of Van Ness avenue. I would like to buy a long pool on that."

      Gavin McNab did not favor the establishment of the permanent
      Chinatown at Hunter's Point, which, he pointed out, was just across
      the line in San Mateo county. he said San Francisco needed the
      property taxes and poll taxes of the Chinese more than ever before,
      and did not believe the city could afford to entertain an Oriental
      city just outside its boundaries.

      The proposition to gather all Chinese in the temporary camp at North
      Beach was finally adopted and a committee consisting of A. Ruef,
      James D. Phelan, Jeremiah Deneen, Dr. Ward and Dr. Filben was
      appointed to take charge of the question of the permanent location
      of the Chinese quarter.


      San Francisco Examiner
      April 27, 1906

      Since the destruction of Chinatown its inhabitants have been living
      in tents, and in even less comfortable quarters, on a large tract of
      land on the north shore of the bay. Knowing the gregarious habits of
      the Chinese, the Citizens' Committee and the Mayor feared that if
      even a few of them returned to their old district and took up
      quarters, the entire Chinese population would follow, and the
      problem of moving them, which has agitated San Francisco for many
      years, would be as great as ever.

      Therefore, when the suggestion was made that the Chinese be moved
      temporarily to a large open tract of land in the Presidio
      reservation it was adopted immediately, and here they will find a
      resting place, until arrangements can be definitely made for their
      permanent city at Hunter's Point, a most desireable spot on the
      southern arm of San Francisco bay.



      One of the evils springing from the late disaster to San Francisco,
      one that menaces Oakland exceedingly, but that seems to have escaped
      attention, is the great influx of Chinese into this city from San
      Francisco. Not only have they pushed outward the limits of Oakland's
      heretofore constricted and insignificant Chinatown, but they have
      settled themselves in large colonies throughout the residence parts
      of the city, bringing with them their vices and their filth.
      The residence of C.H. King, the capitalist, at the corner of East
      Twelfth street and Fourth avenue, has been leased to Chinese, and
      now the house is crowded with Mongolians, 60 or 70 occupying the
      premises. Already this house, situated among some of the finest
      residences of East Oakland, hardly more than a stone's throw from
      the Tubb's palaces has taken on the air of a Chinese hangout. It is
      a rendevous for scores of Celestials, who shuffle in and out of the
      place, for what purpose, one familiar with their life can easily
      conjecture. The residents of the neighborhood, many of them members
      of Oakland's most exclusive society, are up in arms, and will appeal
      to the authorities to abate this nuisance.

      That opium smoking is going on in Chinatown to a greatly increased
      extent is known to all familiar with the district. That fan tan and
      pi gow are being played nightly by hundreds is also certain. These
      vices have white patrons as well as yellow. Hundreds of Caucasian
      worshipers at the shrine of the black smoke have been forced to come
      to Oakland by the fire, and now depend for the satisfaction of their
      abnormal and vicious appetite upon the Chinese of Oakland.
      These "hop heads" are to be seen in droves about the fringe of
      Chinatown. The police are busy dealing with other phases of their
      duties that have been increased enormously by the exodus of all
      classes from San Francisco, and have been unable to cope with the
      situation, though arrests for opium smoking have been made. Several
      days ago "The Herald" called attention to the increase in opium
      smoking, and a cordon of soldiers was placed about Chinatown the
      next day to prevent all whites from venturing into the Mongolian
      quarters, but this vigilance has now been relaxed.

      Chinatown itself has spread from a small affair to a quarter now
      inhabited by thousands. On all sides it has thrown out tentacles,
      taking in more and more houses and streets. It has crossed Webster
      street, and is now near Harrison street in places. On Eighth street
      there are Chinese occupying quarters west of Franklin street.
      Seventh street is now lined with their hutches for several blocks.
      On Franklin street, near Eleventh, two blocks beyond the former
      limits of the chinese quarter, it has been found necessary to put up
      the sign, "No Chinese or Japanese wanted here." White families in
      the neighborhood are moving away, unwilling to be surrounded by the
      degradation, the filth, and the vice that a Chinatown means.

      The Oakland Herald
      April 27, 1906 page 1c5
      Capitalist C.H. King must have been quite influencial in the affairs
      of Oakland, because the newspaper immediately "corrected" its story
      about Chinese living in his home.

      The Oakland Herald
      April 28, 1906

      Through an inadvertance it was stated in "The Oakland Herald" last
      evening that C.H. King, an East Oakland capitalist had leased his
      residence at the corner of Fourth avenue and East Twelfth street, to
      While the building at the location mentioned is not Mr. King's
      residence, it is owned by him and he declares that it is occupied by
      the highest class of Mongolian merchants and their families.

      Mr. King's home is at the corner of Sixth avenue and East Eleventh
      street and is one of the most beautiful residences in the East
      Oakland district. Mr. King has shown his generosity and his kindness
      of heart by throwing open the doors of his own home to white
      refugees from the stricken city across the bay. He has cared for
      them and fed them at his own expense and is still doing all that is
      within his power and that his means can accomplish to alleviate the
      sufferings of those who lost their all in the fire which destroyed
      the metropolis of California.

      It is frequent in these times of stress that wrong information is
      given the reporters for newspapers. They are told things which on
      their surface appear to be correct. Their investigation must of
      necessity be hurried and brief. While they are doing everything
      within their power to verify all that appears in print, it is hardly
      to be expected that some mistakes are not made.

      "The Oakland Herald" with its usual fairness and with its well-known
      reputation for publishing that which can be absolutely relied upon,
      makes this statement in justice to Mr. King and in justice to its
      own representatives.


      San Francisco Chronicle
      April 28, 1906

      Chinatown was moved to still another location yesterday. Following
      the action of Ruef's committee and the military authorities removing
      the Chinese from the foot of Van Ness avenue to the Presidio golf
      links, Charles S. Wheeler, heading a delegation of residents and
      property-owners, called upon the military authorities at the
      Presidio yesterday morning and objected to the establishment of the
      Oriental quarter so close to their homes, where the summer zephyrs
      would blow the odors of Chinatown into their front doors.

      As a result of their protest a new location was hurredly secured on
      the military parade grounds above Fort Point, where all that remains
      of San Francisco's Chinatown was installed before the noon hour.
      Chairman Ruef of the committee on the location of Chinatown
      announced that this action had been approved by his committee, but
      he protested against any further interference with the work of the
      established committee for the reason that it might lead to trouble
      and confusion.

      San Francisco's Chinatown on the parade ground above Fort Point is
      reported to contain exactly sixty Chinese. All other Chinese have
      left town, but it was announced yesterday on the authority of the
      Chinese Vice-Consul that 500 Chinese would return to town from
      Oakland today and that many more would come back as soon as
      accommodations were provided for them. The new temporary Chinatown
      will be under the control of the military authorities.

      Chow Tszchi, first secretary of the Chinese Legation at Washington
      arrived yesterday and was in consultation with the Mayor and General
      Greely. He expressed great satisfaction in the relief which had been
      extended to the Chinese here and was anxious to learn when
      rebuilding work would begin.


      San Francisco Chronicle
      April 30, 1906

      OAKLAND, April 29. — "I have heard the report that the authorities
      intend to remove Chinatown, but I cannot believe it. America is a
      free country, and every man has a right to occupy land which he owns
      provided that he makes no nuisance. The Chinese Government owns the
      lot on which the Chinese Consulate of San Francisco formerly stood,
      and this site on Stockton street will be used again. It is the
      intention of our Government to build a new building on the property,
      paying strict attention to the new building regulations which may be

      This was the significant statement made Saturday by a distinguished
      delegation of Chinese officials which called upon Governor Pardee
      and discussed with him the arrangements necessary for housing the
      homeless Orientals in the city. In the party were Chow-Tszchi, first
      secretary of the Chinese Legation at Washington; Chung Pao Hsi,
      Consul-General of San Francisco, Ow Yang King, his assistant consul
      and Lyman I. Mowry, the attorney for the Chinese officials.

      The party thanked Mayor Mott cordially for his courtesy and kindness
      to the fugitive Chinese population which poured into Oakland after
      the San Francisco disaster. Governor Pardee was asked for letters to
      General Greely, General Funston and Mayor Schmitz, authorizing those
      officials to grant to the properly accredited Chinese
      representatives the right to enter the guarded section and care for
      the distressed Orientals as well as provide for the protection of
      their burned places of business. The letters were given them, and,
      armed with this authority, the party returned to San Francisco.


      San Francisco Examiner
      May 4, 1906

      The white persons and Chinese who are debating the position of a
      permanent Chinatown away from the old district have as yet come to
      no agreement.

      Wednesday Chung Hsi, the Chinese Consul, and O Wyang King, Vice-
      Consul, accompanied A. Ruef on a tour of inspection of the outlying
      districts of the city. The General Relief Committee had suggested
      Hunter's Point for the permanent location of the Celestials. When
      the ground was surveyed, however, the Consul and his aides intimated
      that they would not be satisfied with that district. A large stretch
      of territory in the Potrero was also shown, but the Chinese again
      displayed dissatisfaction.

      There is now under consideration a plan for locating them to the
      east of Telegraph Hill. Chung Hsi desires the Chinese to be treated
      with the same consideration and courtesy accorded Caucasians.

      The committee's protestations that what it intends is for the
      benefit of the Chinese is received with suspicion on the part of the
      Chinese. Ruef said yesterday that he was informed that many of the
      Chinese merchants had canceled orders for goods, with the
      expectation of leaving San Francisco permanently.
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