[TIMELINE] Movement of Chinatown After the 1906 Earthquake
- 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
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.
NOW FEAR THAT THE CHINESE MAY ABANDON CITY
CITIZENS OF SAN FRANCISCO ARE NOW CONFRONTED WITH PROBLEM
IN WHICH TRADE WITH ORIENT IS INVOLVED
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
CHINESE COLONY AT FOOT OF VAN NESS
THE PLAN TO REMOVE CELESTIALS
TO SAN MATEO COUNTY IS OPPOSED
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.
CHINESE HOUSED AT PRESIDIO
LATER THEY WILL GO TO HUNTER'S POINT
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.
CHINESE CROWDING INTO FASHIONABLE DISTRICTS
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.
CAPITALIST KING GIVING ALL AID
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
NEW CHINATOWN NEAR FORT POINT
ORIENTAL QUARTER REMOVED FROM PRESIDIO GOLF LINKS
AT REQUEST OF PROPERTY OWNERS
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
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.
CHINESE MAKE STRONG PROTEST
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.
WANT CHINESE ON THE FRONT
MAY BE SENT EAST OF TELEGRAPH HILL
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
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
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.