Monday, September 24, 2012

Los Angeles Times Articles

Chinese laborers finally rest in peace

Those whose bodies were excavated during construction of the Metro Gold Line's Eastside extension and then reinterred at a nearby cemetery in Boyle Heights are honored with a memorial wall and garden.

September 05, 2010|By Julie Cart, Los Angeles Times
 An unsavory chapter of local history was closed Saturday with the dedication of a memorial wall and meditation garden to honor the Chinese laborers and others whose forgotten graves were excavated during construction of the Metro Gold Line's Eastside extension
The somber ceremony included a traditional Chinese blessing and multifaith prayers for the recently reinterred remains of people who had been buried in a potter's field adjacent to Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.
 After years of sometimes tense negotiations involving the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Los Angeles County, the remains were moved to a burial site in the cemetery near an existing Chinese shrine.
A curving, low-slung commemorative wall was dedicated Saturday, finally ending the relocation saga of the ancestors of many in the local Chinese American community.
Gordon Hom, president of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, said the ceremony provided some closure on painful reminders of a time when family members had few civil rights.
"There has been discrimination," Hom said. "But instead of harping on it, we've tried to prove people wrong. The same for this situation. It's taken time, but it's been resolved."
More than five years ago, the MTA discovered 174 burial sites with remains of what were indigent Angelenos and Chinese workers. The ethnicity of the laborers was determined through forensic analysis and a trove of artifacts buried with them, including coins, buttons, jade and porcelain.
The historic items were the subject of some disagreement in the Chinese American community. Older people wanted to honor the tradition of including money, a teapot or rice bowl in the grave with their loved one. The sentiment among the younger generation was that the objects were invaluable because of their history and for educational purposes.
According to Daisy Ma, president of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance — who buried her father's beloved mah-jongg set with him — the matter was settled by the MTA, which placed the artifacts in the recently dug graves.
She too doesn't dwell on the frustration of how her ancestors were treated.
"Life is too short to carry that around," she said. "At least we got them off the streets and out of potter's field."
The burial site has one piece of unfinished business: The gravestones for some of the plots have not been put in place because of a mix-up with carving the Chinese characters.
No big deal, Ma said. "I turn it around and see the positive: We're finally in there."

CHINATOWN : Part of L.A. History May Find a Home

September 18, 1994   |TOMMY LI    

A Chinese historical group plans to purchase and restore two Victorian houses as part of a nearly $2-million project to develop what could become Chinatown's first heritage and visitors center.
"This can be seen as one part of the overall concept of developing cultural resources in Chinatown," said Eugene Moy, building committee chairman for the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California. "There's a need for smaller and quality (cultural) facilities."
The nearly 20-year-old historical society recently opened escrow on the houses at 411 and 415 Bernard St., at the northern end of Chinatown near the Pasadena Freeway.
To finalize the $375,000 purchase, the group needs to raise $18,750 by November to make the first payment on the 10,000-square-foot property, Moy said. The houses are on adjoining lots; one is vacant and the other is leased by a property management firm.
The society has developed a three- to five-year plan for the project, estimated to cost between $1.5 million and $1.9 million. After restoring and seismically upgrading the two wood-framed buildings, society members want to open the house at 411 Bernard St. as a heritage and visitors center, he said.
Built in 1886 by French immigrant Philipp Fritz, the house would reflect Chinese history in Los Angeles as well as the Latino, Italian, French, Croatian and African American ethnic mix that once populated Chinatown, Moy said. One room would be dedicated to the Fritz family; the immigrant's daughter Louise M. Whiting lived in the home from 1892 until her death in 1992, and the family still owns the property.
That building would also become the permanent site for the Chinese Historical Society, which now leases space in the Phoenix Bakery building in Chinatown, Moy said.
Once open, the center could establish a renewed interest in Chinatown and boost its economy, society members said.
"This is going to be an information center for our educational purposes," society President Irvin Lai said.
The society plans to lease the second house, built in 1892, and would like to see it turned into a bookstore and coffee shop. The final phase of the project would entail construction behind both houses of a three-story, 6,000-square-foot building for cultural education classes, Moy and Lai said.
A courtyard between the new structure and the two Victorian houses would include some kind of artwork to recognize early Chinatown pioneers, they said.
The society hopes to help finance the project by expanding its fund-raising efforts beyond the Chinese community.
"The significance of this location goes beyond Chinese history," Moy said. "It really goes into Los Angeles history. So we hope to bring in the general public of Los Angeles."

BOYLE HEIGHTS : Group Works to Save Chinese Shrine

September 19, 1993|     MARY ANNE PEREZ

Every time Randall Bloch visits the corner of Evergreen Cemetery where a historic Chinese cemetery shrine stands, he becomes more discouraged.
 The shrine, twin furnaces and the remains of a stone altar built to honor the dead and send them on to the next world, was built in 1888. The cemetery's owners were going to bulldoze it to make way for new graves when Bloch learned of the plan and notified the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California.
The society persuaded the city in 1990 to designate the site as a historical monument, protecting it for one year. Last year, the society bought the site and 42 surrounding graves for $14,000, half of owner S. F. Montgomery's original asking price.
But the toughest task of preserving the monument may lie ahead. The society is raising money to protect the shrine with a retaining wall, preserve what is left of it and then restore it.
"I'm very concerned that the monument continues to deteriorate," Bloch told the city's Cultural Arts Planning Commission in a meeting Wednesday at the Boyle Heights Senior Citizens Center. "I'm concerned that every time I go out there, I notice a little more crumbling of the monument and a little more graffiti and beer bottles."
Bloch had come to the meeting with other members of the historical society to plead for money for the preservation project, but commission members said they had none to give.
The society has raised $7,000 in private donations and estimates the work will cost $45,000 to $50,000.
The shrine has not been used for ceremonial purposes since 1965, but held a sacred significance to the city's Chinese community when it was built, said Irvin Lai, a member of the historical society board of directors and past national president of the Chinese-American Citizens Alliance.
The 80-acre Evergreen Cemetery was founded in 1877 and contains the graves of naturalist John Muir and Biddy Mason, a slave who was freed in California and is one of founders of Los Angeles' First African Methodist Episcopal Church. The section that contains the shrine was used to bury indigents: Chinese-Americans were charged $10; everyone else was buried free.
In a ceremony that dates back centuries, relatives and friends of the deceased would burn incense and offer roasted pig, chicken, Chinese tea cakes and other food and wine on the altar to the spirits.
"They opened the (furnace) door and burned paper money and burned their clothing and a paper television or a paper car," Lai said.
After the ceremony, the family would eat the food. Every year, they would return on a special day to clean the grave site, plant flowers and remember their loved ones.
The shrine is significant because it is the earliest evidence of a Chinese community in Los Angeles, said Sue Ellen Cheng, curator of El Pueblo Historic Monument, which has plans for a Museum of Chinese American History at the Garnier Building on Olvera Street.