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[graphic text] Garnier Building (Chinese American Museum)

[Photo] Recently renovated, the Garnier Building (second building from the right) and the building to the far right are now the home of the Chinese American Museum
Photo courtesy of Chinese American Museum
The Garnier Building is the oldest surviving Chinese building in Southern California. As the original buildings in San Francisco's Chinatown were destroyed by the 1906 earthquake, the Garnier Building is also the oldest and most significant Chinese building associated with the Chinese community in any of the State's metropolitan areas. Built in 1890 by Philippe Garnier, a French settler and prominent businessman, this building is the single-most important building relating to the Chinese community and the original Chinatown of Los Angeles. Just prior to the completion of the building, Garnier leased it to Chinese American merchants and the building remained in their care for several decades.

[photo] Chinese Moon Festival in front of the Garnier Building in 1938
Photo courtesy of Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, Photographer: Billy Soo Hoo

The Garnier Building was once regarded as the unofficial "city hall" of Los Angeles's Chinese community. While commercial customers were located on the ground floor and mezzanine levels, Chinatown's leading fraternal and social organizations, schools and religious institutions occupied the second floor. According to Chinese tradition, the upper floors of the building are closer to heaven and to the gods and thus more appropriate for locating temples, schools or organizations that exert authority. These institutions helped to resolve the differences between Chinese organizations and individuals, care for the elderly and needy and act as liaison with the dominant American society. They were greatly needed because of strong prejudicial attitudes expressed against the Chinese in Southern California as a result of the Chinese Massacre of 1871 and the Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882-1943. Among the most important groups located in the building were: the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (Chung Wah), which served as an umbrella organization for the community, fought anti-Chinese legislation and mediated disputes; the Sun Wing Wo Company (1891-1948), a popular general merchandise store which also served as a social center for Chinatown residents; the Chinese American Citizen's Alliance (1895-present), who were active in opposing discrimination and in registering Chinese American citizens to vote; the Wong Ha Christian Chinese Missions School (1897-1905); the Chinese Mission (1901); the Chinese Chamber of Commerce (1912-present); the China Empire Reform Association (1913); the Chinese English School (1913); and the Chinese Laundrymen's Association. Many of the Chinese business establishments and voluntary organizations formerly located in the Garnier building are still active today. The building was also used for dances and theatrical performances.

[Photo] Garnier Block (423 N. Los Angeles St.) and 425 N. Los Angeles St. (the two building to the right of the photo). Note balcony on Garnier north bay and metal awning. View is looking southwest on Los Angeles Street, 1942.
Photo courtesy of Huntington Library
The State of California took over the Garnier Building in the late 1940s. In 1972, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District. In December 2003, the Chinese American Museum celebrated its grand opening, appropriately located in the newly renovated Garnier Building (423 N. Los Angeles St.) and an adjacent building (425 N. Los Angeles St.), also historically used by the Chinese community. Both buildings are part of El Pueblo Monument, a 44-acre public park located at the city's “birthplace” in downtown Los Angeles. The Chinese American Museum is the first such museum in Southern California dedicated to the Chinese American experience and history in this region. The Museum is jointly developed and operated by the Friends of the Chinese American Museum (FCAM) and El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument (El Pueblo), a department of the City of Los Angeles. For further information, visit the Chinese American Museum website.

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