RANCHO CUCAMONGA -- The agency that owns the historic China House in Rancho Cucamonga told concerned preservationists of its intention to comply with a demolition order on the old Chinatown House from the city.

A recent Planning Commission meeting decision, however, gives instruction to the city building official to inform the water district to delay demolition and to stabilize the building. The commission rejected a finding by city planning staffers that deterioration had caused the building to lose its historic significance.

The Cucamonga Valley Water District Engineering Committee last week directed district staffers to continue to comply with the city's earlier demolition order from last December. In a meeting with preservation proponents - from the local Rancho Cucamonga Historical Association and Chinese American heritage groups from Los Angeles - the district informed the group of its intention.

"Our Engineering Committee directed staff to continue to comply with the city's notice and order since it is still in effect, and we have not received any other information from the city at this time," said Jo Lynne Russo-Pereyra, assistant general manager of the Cucamonga Water District.

"We did receive a letter from the Planning Commission secretary informing us of the Planning Commission's action, however, we are still under the city's notice and order issued by the building official, which was submitted to us last December 2012."

Russo-Pereyra said district staffers would discuss the matter with its Board of Directors on May 14, but may receive the Planning Commission's written direction from the city's building official prior to that hearing.

Eugene Moy, vice president of the Chinese American Historical Association, requested the city's assistance with the situation.

City officials said they would be providing a letter from building official Trang Huynh.

"What we're planning to do is, I'm working on an amendment to the demolition order, and, eventually, I'm going to be sending it to the water district and require them to basically shore up the building like the Planning Commission suggested," Huynh said. "We will send out something, but before we send it out, our city attorney has to look at it first. "

Moy said he and others believe the best way to honor the contribution of Chinese laborers who had once lived in the Cucamonga Valley Chinatown of the early 20th century is to preserve the house, and find some kind of adaptive reuse for the property.

"They gave me a pretty good feeling that they were going to pull back," Moy said. "I just have to see the specific language in order to be able to express my comfort in seeing that. I'm hopeful. "

Edward Dietl, of the Rancho Cucamonga Historic Preservation Association, suggests the water district should donate or lease the land to a nonprofit dedicated to saving the structure in the same way a nearby historic gas station on Foothill Boulevard was deeded to a nonprofit for restoration and preservation.

"The best thing the water district could do is give it to a nonprofit as a donation, or sell it for a dollar," Dietl said. "That takes away all the legal and financial responsibility."

The water district had purchased the property that the house is on in 1988 and has no intentions to sell the property at the moment. Value of the property, officials said, is estimated at $670,000.

A preliminary preservation plan estimates steps to preserve the house could cost about $1.7 million.

The two-story, red clay building was built in 1919 and once housed Chinese laborers and a Chinese grocery store.

In the early 20th century, Chinese laborers helped dig tunnels and channels that provided water to the area, in addition to working on local farms and vineyards.

The home is the last remaining structure in a Chinatown in the Inland Empire, preservationists say.