For Americans, the sight of pagoda roofs and dragon gates means that you are in Chinatown. Whether in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, the chinoiserie look is distinctive. But for those just arriving from China, the … Continue reading →
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is ninety nine percent, invisible, I'm roman Mars, in nineteen sixty eight toward soy stepped off a plane from Hong Kong and into the San Francisco International Airport. It was first time on american soil. Twenty. Two years old, he had left his homeland of China and travelled across the ocean to build a new life for himself and his young wife in this land of opportunity when immigrants first come to the. U S This is- and this is such an old trope in an old stories that you expect Trees are paved with gold. This is on its way his daughter, she's. Also the author of a book about American Chinatown Today I turn people still call San Francisco comes on meaning gold Melton. This is where you find your fortune in San Francisco enjoys very first stop in San Francisco. His very first stop in America, like generation upon generation of chinese immigrants before him was San Francisco Chinatown and he
was not impressed to George San Francisco Chinatown fell out of date all the things he saw in Chinatown. These pagoda roofs, these dragging gates. These flourishes that to a signal: China and China, business. There were things that he actually and seen in back in China. Fur years and years and years, and they were not used in that architectural vernacular. There, and so he wondered how China town in this release. Personally, Modern America was Why did it feel older than the oldest parts, a punk onward? He grown up because was design that way. That's producer, Chelsea Davis, four George Soy and many other chinese immigrants, San Francis I was trying to town and the China towns and a lot of american Citys. They don't look much the China. They now looks like a bit of a movie said. Actually it's a lot of contact. Anything else, next to it, on their side, that's filming
their Felicia low. She made I can marry about San Francisco, Chinatown walking around China together, we pass Bank of America ATM guarded by gold, dragons shops neon me names like heart of Shanghai selling, paper fans and plastic buddhas and tat pouring forth story, bazaars crowned with little pagodas. But Chinatown hasn't always look this way, in fact, before the massive earth, right that levelled San Francisco in nineteen o six Chinatown look like most of the other neighborhoods in San Francisco rows of brick homes done up with it Torreon Italian, eight facades, the only thing you recognises chinatown other people in it and the chinese signs instead of american signs. That's Phil Choice, retired architect, An historian of chinese american culture. He grew up in San Francisco Chinatown and still lives there. Today
He says it's not like chinese immigrants in S F had strong opinions either way about their neighborhoods. Victorian flourishes the columns porches. They just didn't what choice when it came to where they live. After arriving in America, they moved into the old homes that white people had abandoned for green pastures and after that base The Chinese didn't have time to really pay attention to the architecture. Or creating chinese architecture basic desire, was to make a living and making living was easier said than done. If you were chinese and early twentieth century San Francisco, since the eighteen sixties, chinese immigrants had been a convenient scapegoat for nationwide job shortages. The result was federal legislation like the eighteen. Eighty, two chinese exclusion ACT, which barred the vast majority of chinese people from entering the states and made it impossible Chinese already in the? U s too,
Come new american citizens, disco racist housing policies made it almost impossible for people of chinese heritage to live outside of Chinatown and when they did set foot outside the fifteen square blocks of the chinese enclave, it at the risk of physical violence. So this contained world of Chinatown served as a desperately needed refuge for Chinese SAM Franciscans. But in nineteen o six, that refuge would be eviscerated by a dumb, where me of a disaster, early in the morning of April eighteenth of that year, San Francisco woke up to a seven point, eight magnitude earthquake. It was the biggest quaking cities recorded history still is but those violent tremors were just the beginning, because the earthquake shadow the cities, gas means and the gas that leaked out. Somewhere it connected with a spark
as the fires that resulted lasted for three days and destroyed about five hundred city blocks. Chinatown was one of the first neighborhoods to go up in smoke. The safe space for Chinese Billy's at fifteen, black radius of the neighborhood, and without it it becomes a very dangerous situation. Andrea Davies is a historian at Stanford Humanity Center, but before her career, earn academia. She was in a slightly different line of work. I was of San Francisco fire fighter for about five years, and so my first assignment was Chinatown fighting for hairs in that neighbourhood later led Davies to write a social history of the nineteen o six catastrophe, she's as that, in the wake of the disaster, newspapers all this fuel goodies story that the ESA quake and fire, where social equalizer that the shared experience of suffering united ten franciscans of all colors and creeds man,
helping man and so on, but well white men may have helped white man. No one was open the Chinese an event the racism against them only intensified. I call heightened posters asked racism you could see this heightened racism happening on at least two levels. First, with individual white San Franciscans, the built environment, keeps everyone in their place and that's what gets erased on April, ten, nineteen o six. So if you're no leak white San Francisco, you don't have to see the residents of trade and unless you go there as the Chinese are leaving their homes in desperation there, being yelled at to get out and don't turn back and according to if it wasn't just private citizens who were guilty of that heightened racism, because the second place that the fire spur flare up and racism was,
how the recovery efforts were managed. The fire department did very little to stop it in Chinatown and in fact, made it worse and the water means a broken. So there is not one. I wonder if I D fires is, if you look at China Town, which has nestled right against Knob Hill, we're all the leat mountains are there. All the water goes tricked random air to save knob hell and all the dynamite goes into Chinatown at the time Fire Department with dynamite buildings to keep fire from spreading, but the fire department used Wrong kind of dynamite in Chinatown, burned all the faster, Following days as the embers of Chinatown cooled, the Chinese is found themselves homeless and new. Leave vulnerable and hostile streets, but things were about to get worse so many of the city's political and business leaders, or actually excited about this social equalising disaster
has it eliminated Chinatown and they thought will never rebuild it before the quake. Many whites had seen the chinese neighbourhood as the camorra of opium, dance, prostitution and disease in eighteen. Eighty city hall, had prepared a municipal report on Chinatown and in that report page you, some of the document asian listing. All the houses of prostitution the number of gambling houses and opium dense throughout China TAT. This reputation for vice had actually create a minor industry of slum tourism in Chinatown thrill seeking white people could hire a guide to lead them through scenes of alleged depravity, they would be taken through dimly, lit buildings and shown opium smokers and prostitutes and gambling evidence suggests that some of these scenes may have actually been staged by the guides themselves. In one thing that was definitely fake.
A widespread rumour that same Francisco's chinese residence lived in under road tunnels. This is they really believe that the Chinese who lived under ground, and Today, people were seeds, China, towns, underground. On top of all this time, The town was right in the middle of choice: downtown real estate, real estate that San Francisco elites long wanted for white businesses, in fact, two years before the fire. Then mayor, James Feline had hired an architect to draw up sketches for a new downtown. The architect Bayard you may have heard of him, Daniel Burton and in his plan there is no China Burnham was a proponent of the city, beautiful movement and urban planning philosophy popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and this idea city beautiful, it's very racial eyes, this view and the idea is a more
beautiful urban environment, creates a more beautiful citizen like we want. Beautiful city of well educated citizens, and everyone is white and productive and with China town burned to the ground city lead you're the chance to make that white dream a reality. Within a week of the fire city, Hall created a committee dedicated solely to relocating Chinatown. The group included, form mayor, James Feeling, the one who had hired Burnham to draw up those revised draft of San Francisco, and so the minute the city goes up in flames, I'm not kidding, I don't think cities finished burning and James Feelin is telegraphing dinner Burnham send more reports immediately the hands of the city. Leaders in business leaders hears our plan. We can rebuild here's the perfect setting the plan for that perfect city, booted the Chinese all the way to hunters point a region on the edge of town
where the city slaughter houses were, but it wasn't long for the chinese residents found out about the plan and they fought back and I think they fought back very intelligently through your choices, improves dowager, so sheep she said her consul general from Washington to meet with San Francisco officials, but the the grass was financial for decades. San Francisco had been a key hub for trade with China. So a group of the city's top chinese business owners wrote to the current mare in a language San Francisco officials could easily understand, and so that on the business levels, Association was okay. You don't want us to come back, we're not going to hunters point. We can go to Tacoma. We can go to Portland, so there's a panic of a loss of revenue for the city, and that was a lost that city leaders couldn't take less than a month after the earthquake, the mayor, Her dissolved his committee to relocate Chinatown
for Chinese Americans at this time. This was an unprecedented political victory, but they didn't stop there. The fire had left Chinatown a blank slate and for the first time the Chinese were holding the chalk they were sick of Chinatown. Getting this bad rap provides sick of city hall harassing them. Visitors asking them if they lived in tunnels, the chinese one did make over for their neighbor had ended Eric and bore in chinese business. Man named looked in Eli knew just how to go about it, the way was build me, a pagoda that Felicia Low again. She says that looked in Eli figured pay. If tourists are He is going to come to Chinatown seeking a taste of some imaginary east. Let's go what they want, and so he was able to hire white architects to create it. I knew town that looked the way white people
and trying to town to look. Even though he knew in his own mind that the building- in China. Didn't all look like this now looks play it might seem a bit counter intuitive at first for decades, the Chinese of salmon, This had been harassed precisely because they looked in dress differently from mainstream White America and he was a guy sane. Let's, we build our neighbourhood in a way that emphasizes are foreignness that cars are different from the rest of the city. In the very face of our buildings, but He saw a whose father had been flung fixed by the look of Chinatown when he arrived in San Francisco. She says that the chinese community of nineteen o seven saw a positive side to that foreignness. And they also were pretty savvy with the fact that people were interested in them and they were interested in this exotic element and if they could bill that in a way that was attractive and said,
repellent that that would be protective for them. Look hired an architect. Named, T Patterson Ross and an engineer named a W Bergen. Two men had never been to China, but the time the architects were not trained into two additional anything about to architecture, because also at that the Orient, was consider we behind the west, so culturally everything was looked down upon the sea. It's nothing to study about Russia Bergmans knowledge of China was limited to a few images. They'd scene of ancient palaces from the song dynasty an arc. Textual style, there was already hundreds of years old by the early twentieth century, but the dunes Ross and brethren from using their imaginations. Anne, oh They use their imaginations. They created the sort of
Disneyland effect, Friends The sing Chong Building was top with a small structure that sort of look like pagoda but choice as that in China, you typically wouldn't see pagoda on top of another building. Pagodas. There are free standing structures, not a decorative flourish and, secondly, in China. These were the monuments for religious purposes. The religion of Buddhism. Here San Francisco form the pig instead houses, a monument to consumerism. Sing. Chung became the bustling department, store, Hocking Asian ART, which it still is to this day, but nonetheless, the designers that look, ten Eli hired created a striking building, in other words rebuilding in Chinatown. Couldn't but notice
Una sing tongues. Bombastic she was look had become these style for most new structures going up in Chinatown the Org. Ex who are trying to reproduce Beijing in San Francisco may have gotten a lot of the details wrong, but for the tourists they were wrong and all the right ways: tourists loved the new Chinatown. This was actually the westerner friendly version of China. They wanted vague exotic but safe enough for a middle class White America, the visitor began to flow into Chinatown and so did their cash and pleasant. New appearance was beginning to change popular sentiment towards the chinese people, American, Newspapers made it explicit that the neighbourhood make over was causing them to rethink their contempt for the Chinese. As one newspaper the bullet, and put it in nineteen o nine quote John. Down is one of the most noted places on the american continent. We have
hold up to the public gaze for too long. The racial grief that separates the yellow and white people of the earth end quote: look ten Eyes plan had worked chinese communities elsewhere in the? U S, we're taking note all of this. Sesar. China towns that have come in America take acute, Let's take a page from this Playbook New York M, Cisco, allay Honolulu. They all sort of have their roots in San Francisco. That's honey. He saw again she said the visual style and tourist friendly attitude that San Francisco Chinatown had perfected soon began to spread inverted New Chinatown brand was so successful that it still influencing Chinatown being built in our own time. For instance, take the Chinatown in LAS Vegas, which was created in the nineties. It off I had the same problem
refines and dragging gates like the same language, architectural language at same architectural vernacular, was being used to create newest Chinatown that was used to create the oldest shantytown. You know you outsmarted the devil. If not. Basically there is a phrase. You know that they call white people Bach way, the White Devil, indeed, it was a victory. Absolutely, of course, this architectural revenge didn't instantly fix everything for the Chinese in San Francisco. They still faced plenty of legal and popular discrimination, for example. They were still required by real estate laws to live in Chinatown and non effect A level the chinese exclusion ACT itself wouldn't even be repealed until nineteen forty three more than thirty years later and even if the rebranding of Chinatown help to ease negative sentiment towards the Chinese
joy believes it may also have help promote certain stereotypes continues to pursue. Openness and my I remember my daughter coming home one day, very annoyed and upset. As if these people look look look, this like. They never seen a chinese person before by contrast, look at the other traditionally ethnic neighborhoods in San Francisco, Japan, town or the italian neighbourhood of North Beach choice those neighborhoods didn't self exotic size in the nineteen hundreds to nearly the same extent, the Chinatown dead boot deliberately not. Elation, embrace ethnic other. Bring groups at that time didn't face the same antagonism that the Chinese did so
the Chinese were forced to cater to white people's fantasies, as a survival mechanism will catch the yarn. At that time, we have to promote our foreignness to be accepted. But even if China, tones architecture is a somewhat inauthentic representation of the real thing for a lot of tourists. Don't realize is the fact that real people live there. And that it is a place actually that is for poor people You know I mean it is at its essence a place where people to live when they first get here because they can afford to live anywhere else. Because they need the services that are provided there Bonnie. Soy says this is true of all the Chinatown. She studied there all portals of entry for new Immigrants of particular class in a working class immigrants who don't speak English, in fact, thanks to factor
like rent control, zoning restrictions and really active tenants rights groups and the community San Francisco, China, town has managed to remain a relatively affordable neighbourhood for low income immigrants. Bunny says yes, Chinatown has been give and rebranded to cater to American to, but there is still an authentic and important history there, there's something about it, that if you can sort of red the skyline, you can read the story of of how this place came to be, and also in that is. This market and in that there's like there's this power in that pressure, ninety nine percent, invisible was produces week by Chelsea Davis and Katy mingle, with em Greenspan, a breach of men, Kirkwall Stead and me roman Mars aversion
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.