Asian/Pacific Thematic Historic District is
comprised of 20 structures located in the Gaslamp
Quarter and the Marina Neighborhood.
This historic District is located between Market St,
J St, Second Ave & Sixth Ave.
The various properties included are those which have
strong ties to the Asian/Pacific community either
through ownership, business or cultural use. Some of
the structures reflect their Asian/Pacific
association through architectural treatments such as
the use of patterned glazed ceramic tiles,
overhanging balconies, clay tile roofs, and other
minor distinguishable attributes. These are also the
only remnant structures in downtown San Diego
historically & culturally associated with the
Asian/Pacific community. Some are still occupied by
Chinese or Asian residents and businesses and many
have retained their historic uses. Some buildings
also reflect unique ethnic adaptations of vernacular
American architecture which convey an oriental
feeling or appearance.
Located in the Gaslamp Quarter
National Register Historic District are 13
buildings. The Gaslamp Quarter historically
contained a concentration of Chinese, Japanese,
Filipino and Hawaiian owned buildings and businesses
throughout the early historic development of San
Diego's New Town.
The Marina Neighborhood
traditionally considered Chinatown or the Chinese
district is centered along Third Avenue. The seven
structures located here are most directly associated
with the Chinese community, but have also been
identified with other Asian groups as well. This
area also includes the Chinese Mission Building
reconstructed on the northwest corner of Third
Avenue and "J" Street. Three structures in the
Marina area were determined eligible for the listing
in the National Register of Historic Places. The
buildings are the Plants and Fireproofing Building,
the Ying-On Merchants and Labor Benevolent
Association Building and the Chinese Consolidated
Benevolent Association Building.
In 1850, William Heath Davis,
nicknamed "Kanaka Bill," founded New Town San Diego.
Davis was born of Hawaiian and Haole parentage and
arrived in San Diego from his native Honolulu,
Hawaii when he was 10 years old. By the time he was
28, Davis, had become a major trader in San Diego
with China and other Pacific Rim ports. Before his
thirtieth birthday, Davis and Associates laid out
over 160 acres of "New Town" and built the City's
Wharf and Warehouse. Unfortunately by late 1851, new
businesses and government agencies which were
expected to develop in New Town as a result of
California being inducted into the Union and the
Gold Rush in the North never materialized. "New
Town" was to remain dormant for the next decade.
Today the Davis family home is a museum on the
corner of Fourth and Island avenues in the heart of
the Gaslamp Quarter. Pantoja Park, located on
Columbia and G streets was dedicated in 1850 by
Davis as the first "open space" in San Diego and can
still be visited as a reminder of this early
In 1869, New Town began to show
new life when Alonzo Horton began revitalizing New
Town, San Diego, and the Asian/Pacific population in
downtown San Diego began to grow. A Chinese fishing
colony developed early along the edge of the bay and
laborers, farmers, shop owners and others soon
followed. As in most cities, and with most ethnic
groups, the Chinese congregated in a district, in
close proximity to the waterfront fishing colony and
Horton's Wharf which provided jobs off loading the
many ships arriving in San Diego Bay.
The buildings of the Chinese
Quarter housed laundries, restaurants, produce
centers, stores, dwellings, and gambling emporiums.
In 1872, Horton sold a lot on
Third Avenue to Wo Sung and Company, a branch of the
large Chinese importing house of that name in San
Francisco. The company built a large two-story brick
store on the property. A joss house (Chinese temple)
and three fraternal organizations were also
established in this area.
Later the major businesses of the
surrounding area were prostitution and saloons.
These businesses expanded and soon encompassed much
of the original Chinese district. An eclectic
mixture of stores, vegetable dealers, restaurants,
laundries, residences, gambling emporiums and other
uses in the Chinese Quarter existed side by side
with the dance halls, saloons and brothels of their
Caucasian neighbors in the Stingaree District.
It was these later non-Chinese
businesses which attracted most of the attention and
press coverage. This led to several attempts over
the years on the part of public officials to close
down the brothels.
In 1888, a local reporter
estimated the number of Chinese residents in San
Diego at 5,000. This growing community continued to
celebrate their traditional holidays. As an example,
on October 15th, a holiday in 1871, found the
Chinese residents dressed in their best clothes and
setting off firecrackers while sharing community
meals. They celebrated the Chinese New Year which
began on February 14, 1877, and their Christmas
which began on December 20, 1884, as evidence of
adherence to their heritage and traditions. A long
and extensive explanation of events taking place in
the San Diego Chinese Quarter was carried in the
press as a way of letting other people know that all
were welcome to share their holidays. These also
included annual feasts of the Chinese Free Masons of
America who held the celebrations in front of the
Joss House such as the one on April 22, 1897, and
another big celebration of the Chinese New Year in
The headlines of the San Diego
Union of February 11, 1888, stated, "Chinese in
Clover, Pagan New Year Opened with Great Relief,
Mongolian Quarter Scenes." Reporters told of the
popping of firecrackers, the burning of punk and the
worship of Joss greeting the Celestial holiday.
Houses were decorated in the Quarter with lanterns
and while lilies; restaurants were very busy and a
throng of American visitors invaded the Chinese
Quarter pressing in on the good natured "Mongolians"
who had secured permits from the City to allow the
celebration to continue for a week.
The demographics of the original
Asian District show that buildings and businesses
began their development by the Chinese as early as
the 1860's. Between 1860 and 1890, the early
settlement included Chinese and Filipino businesses
located in the area bounded by Second Avenue, Sixth
Avenue, "E" Street, and "K" Street. There were at
least 24 Asian/Pacific buildings/businesses in the
area at this time.
A second period occurs between
1891 and 1910 with a notable increase of
Asian/Pacific buildings/businesses between Broadway
and "K" Street, Second Avenue to Sixth Avenue. The
majority of the approximately fifty
businesses/buildings, were concentrated between
Second Avenue to Sixth Avenue, Market to "J" Street.
Many of these were newly arrived Japanese merchants
who by 1907 had formed a nucleus around 5th and
The Japanese "community" was
composed of restaurants, barber shops, pool halls
and boarding houses. In addition, a Japanese
Congregational Mission established on 8th Street,
began teaching English at night along with religion.
By the end of the decade, a number of pioneer Issei
had become well established businessmen. It was at
this time also that Japanese fishermen began to
arrive in San Diego in increasing numbers. The
Japanese interest in the Area's fishing potential
dates back to 1908 when Kikuchi Jiroichi began to
catch abalone with a small group of fishermen he
employed. From this early beginning the local
Japanese fishery grew until 1918 when it was
estimated by the Department of Commerce that fifty
percent of all the crews in San Diego were Japanese.
One reason that many Japanese fishermen chose this
area was the success of the M.K. Fishing Company
headed by Kondo Masaharu and managed by Abe
Tokunosuke. The Japanese sailing from San Diego were
responsible for introducing the bamboo pole to tuna
fishing, as well as long range refrigerated boats.
In 1903, the first recorded group
of Filipino immigrants arrived in San Diego and they
were students enrolled at the State Normal School
(now San Diego State University). The school
Registrar's records show the students were between
the ages of 16 and 25, and were teachers in
Philippine elementary schools.
The businesses within this area
were predominately restaurants, wash houses,
merchandise sales and housing. The Chinese had
primarily grocery stores, laundries, residences and
social halls, while the Japanese developed such
businesses as barber shops, billiard halls and
groceries as new additions to the area.
A third period of development for
the Asian Community is from 1911 to 1930. At this
time, the number of businesses/buildings is close to
100 and there is a congenial combination of many
Asian ethnic groups. Chinese, Filipino, Japanese and
Hawaiian businesses flourished side by side during
this time with a remarkable concentration between
Market and "J" Street, Second and Sixth Avenues.
Between the late 1900's and 1946,
various groups of Filipino immigrants came to San
Diego. The young Filipino men who enlisted in the
United States Navy Recruiting Offices in the
Islands, have comprised a large bulk of the migrants
ever since the 1900's.
The Japanese disappeared from the
District in 1942 as a result of the U.S. Government
relocation program of World War II. After the war,
some of the businesses were replaced by Filipino
tenants, but the Japanese never fully returned to
the District and this signaled the ultimate decline
of the area beginning in the late 1940's.
(The above information was
provided by the Centre City Development
Corporation, (619) 235-2200.) Thanks to Ms. Beverly
Schroeder and her staff for providing the written
information and the photographs.