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Market Street Chinatown Historic Marker

Time Capsule-Historic Images and Recollections (Images and Recollections)

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Five different locations housed San Jose's Chinatown between the 1860s and 1931. One of these locations was Market Street Chinatown, established in the 1860s and destroyed by an arson fire in 1887 [2; 4]. Prior to its destruction, it was the largest Chinatown south of San Francisco, in spite of intense anti-Chinese sentiment and violence [1; 3]. Stanford University's ongoing Market Street Chinatown Archaeology Project has revealed the neighborhood to have been a highly adaptive, diverse ethnic community [1; 2].

The Market Street Chinatown fire (image from History San Jose)
Market Street Chinatown in 1880 (image from History San Jose)
Ceramics recovered during archaeological excavations at Market Street (image from Archaeology Magazine)
This Chinatown historic marker is located outside the Fairmont Hotel at the intersection of Market Street and Paseo de Santo Antonio.

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Five different locations housed San Jose's Chinatown between the 1860s and 1931. One of these locations was Market Street Chinatown, established in the 1860s and destroyed by an arson fire in 1887 [2; 4]. Prior to its destruction, it was the largest Chinatown south of San Francisco, in spite of intense anti-Chinese sentiment and violence [1; 3]. Stanford University's ongoing  Market Street Chinatown Archaeology Project has revealed the neighborhood to have been a highly adaptive, diverse ethnic community (also see entry for the Chinese American Historical Museum at History Park, San Jose) [1; 2].

San Jose's Early Chinatown

During the 19th century, so-called "Nativist" European American prejudices were rampant in California, and Chinatowns of the West were often safe, economically stable communities not only for Chinese Americans, but Japanese and other Asian Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, European immigrants, and white social outcasts such as prostitutes [1]. Analysis of artifacts from San Jose's Market Street Chinatown has revealed a combination of pan-Asian, British, and American household goods were used in the community, suggesting a diverse, mobile (not isolated) population who were an important part of the county's economic development [1; 2; 3]. University of Delaware professor Jean Pfaelzer writes that San Jose's Chinatown was "the economic and social center for three thousand farmworkers, for domestic servants...and for local Chinese merchants and laborers," [quoted in 4].

Anti-Chinese sentiment rose in part from European American ignorance of Chinese goods, culture, and tradition, but also from the more mundane issue of business interests [1; 3]. Despite beatings, murders, and arson from European Americans, Market Street Chinatown managed to thrive. The residents even organized their own fire department in 1883 [3]. As downtown San Jose grew in the 1880s, businessmen eyed the properties of Chinatown as sites of future expansion, and Mayor C.W. Breyfogle and the town council declared the community a "public nuisance," voting to remove it in March of 1887 [1; 3]. After two months without success, an arson fire set on May 4, 1887 destroyed the densely-packed brick and wooden buildings of Chinatown within hours [3; 4]. The fire was set in an alley during the afternoon, when most of the community were gathering to hear the announcement of the lottery winner, and although the Chinese fire brigade responded to the blaze, their water tank proved to have been drained. Nearby white business owners had spent the previous two weeks investing in fire insurance, according to Pfaelzer [quoted in 3].

The tragedy left San Jose's Chinatown residents homeless and destitute, though the fire helped to preserve their community's archaeological record, which was excavated in the 1980s during urban redevelopment of the downtown area [1; 2; 3]. Over 50,000 artifacts were recovered; analysis began in 2001 and is still ongoing [1; 2]. For more of the history of San Jose's Chinatown community following the destruction at Market Street, see the entry on the Chinese American Historical Museum.

Sources

1. Patel, Samir S. "Culture in Chinatowns of the American West." Archaeology Magazine, Archaeological Institute of America. April 8, 2014. Accessed December 28, 2016. http://www.archaeology.org/issues/136-features/chinatowns/1956-culture-in-chinatowns-american-west.

2. Stanford University. "Market Street Chinatown Archaeological Project." Accessed December 28, 2016. http://marketstreet.stanford.edu/.

3. Yee, Jordan. "The Burning of San Jose Chinatown." Historical Marker Database. January 4, 2010. Accessed December 17, 2016. http://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=26215.

4. Yee, Jordan. "Chinatown." Historical Marker Database. January 5, 2010. Accessed December 17, 2016. http://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=26214.


Address
Paseo De San Antonio & South Market St.
San Jose, CA 95113
Tags
  • Asian and Asian American History
  • Business and Economic Development
  • Ethnic History and Immigration
  • Firefighting and Law Enforcement
  • Urban History
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This location was created on 2016-12-17 by Sara Marian .   It was last updated on 2016-12-30 by Clio Admin .

This entry has been viewed 1672 times within the past year

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