RANCHO CUCAMONGA--Representatives of cultural heritage groups in Southern California have asked city and water district officials to delay plans to demolish a historic home where Chinese laborers once lived nearly a century ago.
City officials have deemed the "China House," built in 1919, as structurally unsafe. The city has presented a legal order to the Cucamonga Valley Water District, which owns the property, to remediate the unsafe condition within a 60-day abatement period ending on Feb. 14, according to Jeff Bloom, deputy city manager for economic and community development.
Without funds to renovate or reinforce the structure, water district officials approved a demolition plan, and the construction of a monument that would utilize original bricks from the home in order to honor the Chinese laborers who had once lived in the building and the area.
The building, on the southwest corner of Klusman Avenue and San Bernardino Road, is the last remnant of a once-thriving Chinatown in the Cucamonga Valley and represents the last structure of a Chinatown anywhere in the Inland Empire, according to leaders of the Chinese American heritage groups.
Cultural and historic preservationists, and some city residents, say preserving the building for future generations would be a better way to honor the memory of early Chinese Americans than by simply building a monument.
"We understand the technical problems but there aren't any problems that can't be resolved within our whole region," said Eugene Moy of the Chinese American Historical Society of Southern California.
Moy brought his group's concerns to the water district board meeting on Tuesday night as well as the city planning and historic preservation commission on Wednesday. He was joined by over a dozen like-minded people at the Wednesday planning commission meeting.
City and water district officials say there are no public funds to spare for any renovation, rebuilding or relocation of the building, and such efforts would be costly.
Should the water district decide on another course of action within the abatement period, perhaps by moving to stabilize the building, such a remediation effort could lead to the delay of the demolition, depending on council direction, Bloom said.
Bloom said, however, that this potential course would still mean the expenditure of public funds, and no guarantee of success with finding private funds.
During the holidays, representatives from the Chinese American Historical Society of Southern California, the Chinese American Citizens Alliance and the Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation, learned of the demolition plan, visited the site, and began discussing efforts to save the home.
Rick Eng, a board member with the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, said he and other heritage group leaders have been discussing outreach efforts to companies for sponsorship of the efforts.
The Rancho Cucamonga Fire District, in August had also submitted a letter of interest to purchase the parcel from the water district in order to relocate its aging fire station, located across the street on San Bernardino Road. The fire district is also eyeing another potential location on a parcel further west on San Bernardino Road.
Negotiations or discussions with land owners, regarding Fire District interest in relocating its San Bernardino Road station, have yet to take place, said Fire Department Chief Mike Bell.
Chinese laborers who worked on the ranches, vineyards and dug water tunnels in the region had also lived in Chinatowns in other nearby inland areas such as Riverside, Colton and San Bernardino, though the buildings were demolished years ago.
According to a historical recordation report, commissioned by the water district and conducted by the Colton-based cultural resource management firm CRM Tech, the house, architecturally, "does not demonstrate any distinctive cultural characteristics that identify the building to their former occupants. Therefore, the ability of the China House to represent the history and cultural heritage of the Cucamonga Chinatown, or those of California's once numerous rural Chinatowns, is also limited."
Miriam Nakamura-Quan was among several who spoke at the planning commission meeting in support of saving the house. She had obtained a copy of the historic report from the water district and disagreed with its assessment over the historical significance of the site.
"It's something in your own backyard and should be something that's treasured and held for future generations," she said.
Follow @RanchoNow on Facebook and Twitter for videos of the China House and other stories in Rancho Cucamonga.
Note: a video from the planning commission meeting, with Chinese American heritage groups will be posted here later on Thursday.