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Asian Pacific Historic District Gateway - page 4 / 38





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restaurants, and eventually fraternal organizations. As an example, the block bounded by Market, Island, Fourth, and Fifth Avenues had on Market Street Uichiro Obayashi’s Sun Cafe, a Filipino pool hall, and a barbershop. On Fourth Avenue was the Hop Lee Chong Laundry, a place where many new Chinese immigrants got their start. On Fifth was the Pacific Hotel, which housed many Japanese and had on its ground floor Nippon Co. a large Japanese goods store. The 1930 census clearly showed that this block and the one to the east, which are today part of the Asian Pacific Historic District and the Gaslamp Quarter, had the most ethnically diverse population in San Diego. There were Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Black, White, Mexican, and Native American. Many of the White population were foreign born. Almost all of the families in the area were Chinese and Japanese, primarily because they had little choice in where they could live. The others living in the area were lodgers in hotels and boarding houses. Adequate housing in the area was in short supply and many of the Asian families lived in cramped quarters with many children, relatives, and lodgers. Some of their quarters were above or behind their businesses and others were in crowded row houses, deficient in amenities. The children went to school together and shared a unique period in the growth of the city. The community had a lot in common.

The next negative impact on the area came in 1942 at the beginning of World War II. The Japanese community ceased to exist as their members were sent into detention camps. The Chinese and Filipino young men went into the military service. After the war the area was gradually abandoned as returning veterans sought better housing and employment. As downtown San Diego changes it needs to remember its past, when life was different, people were different, but their desire to attain the “American Dream” and a better life for their children, remain a constant. San Diego’s unique ethnically diverse roots need to be preserved. This is a significant aspect of city’s history and cultural heritage.


The artist who is awarded this contract should use as points of departure the tradition of Chinatown gateways in places such as San Francisco and Los Angeles as well as the tradition of neighborhood gateway signs in San Diego and the resulting gateway should aim to meet all the following goals:

  • Contribute to the infusion of authenticity back into the district

  • Emphasize the cultural aspect of the district

  • Contribute to a sense of place

  • Have both a day and night presence

  • Elevate the standard for San Diego’s neighborhood gateways

The gateway should NOT:

  • Be a literal listing or portrayal of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and Pacific Islander cultures

  • Be an environmental graphic solution


CCDC/City of San Diego Asian Pacific Historic District Gateway Public Art March 2010 Page 4 of 38

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