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[graphic] Chinatown Archeological Site

Chinatown Archeological Site--excavation
Photo courtesy of the Riverside Municipal Museum

Chinatown was founded by Chinese merchants on the outskirts of Riverside, California in 1885 to escape their harassment by Anglo merchants and citizens in the city’s downtown. Chinatown grew and thrived for over half a century by providing labor to the citrus industry, farming extensive vegetable gardens along the Santa Ana River, and through laundries and mercantile shops. The original village of wooden buildings was destroyed by a kitchen fire in 1893, but this allowed Chinatown to be rebuilt with sturdier building stock that eventually included a “joss house” (religious temple) and the headquarters of the local Chee Kung Tong Society. The passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the subsequent Geary Act (among others) served to limit the growth of Chinatown, yet the village continued to serve as an economic and cultural center for its 500 permanent residents and thousands of additional regional workers.

[photo] Historic images of Chinatown Archeological Site
Photos courtesy of the Riverside Municipal Museum

Eventually, though, the recurring waves of anti-Chinese and anti-immigrant sentiment caused many immigrants to leave the area; several also returned to China following the overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty in China. By the late 1920s the village was virtually deserted and severely deteriorated. Chinatown was eventually bought by George Wong, the son of a Chinese immigrant, and preserved as best as possible during the course of his life. Following his death, the few remaining buildings were either destroyed by fire or razed for safety reasons and the site’s future was in doubt. However, the City of Riverside Cultural Heritage Board designated Chinatown as a Cultural Heritage Landmark in 1976 and a portion of the six-acre site was preserved for posterity. The resulting Chinatown Archeological Site represents the only known site in California encompassing an entire Chinese commercial and residential village that has not been subsequently developed. The area has since been the subject of some research and archeological excavation, though the true value of the site has only just been touched.

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Images for top banner from NPS Historic Photograph Collection (Rainbow over Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, by Thomas C. Gray, [HPC-001345]) and the Palau Historic Preservation Office.

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