Filed Under Immigration

Chinatown (site)

Reno's Chinese community experienced decades of racism, displacement, and violence.

Following the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, Reno—like other towns in the West—became a home for displaced Chinese laborers. The Sacramento-to-Reno section of the Central Pacific Railroad was completed in the spring of 1868; Chinese laborers who had risked life and limb laying track over the Sierra Nevada received final payment and were left along the line to fend for themselves. Many constructed flimsy bare-wood structures at the crossroads of Virginia and First streets along the banks of the Truckee River. Reno’s Chinatown was born.

On Aug. 3, 1878, fire consumed the Chinese quarter. Tensions had been running high since May when the San Francisco-based firm Lung Chung & Company received the contract to construct the proposed 33-mile Steamboat Ditch irrigation canal from near Truckee into Reno. Local Workingmen’s Party members were vocal in their condemnation of the Truckee and Steamboat Springs Canal Company for employing Chinese labor. Coincidentally the Workingmen’s Party held a meeting that very same evening to discuss and adapt a series of resolutions on “the Chinese question.”

Few incidents of violence or physical hostility occurred in Chinatown for more than 20 years after 1878, when the Chinese community agreed to relocate out of town to First and Lake streets.

In November 1908, a Washoe County Grand Jury ordered the razing of Chinatown—a “plague spot” and “disease-breeding place” according to Dr. James L. Robinson of the newly formed Reno Board of Health. Only the Joss house (a place of worship), and some of the more-frequented brothels that housed Chinese prostitutes were spared.

The events in Reno created a stir along the West Coast, drawing protest from Washington State to San Francisco. The Reno Chinese community reached out to San Francisco’s Chinese Consul, and even hired an attorney to file a suit against the City of Reno for $7,000. The Chinese proved to be mostly powerless, however, because many of the buildings in the Chinese quarter had been situated on land owned by white proprietors.

The final remnant of Reno’s Chinatown on Lake Street, Bill Fong’s New China Club, disappeared in the 1970s as Harrah’s expanded to build a larger parking garage. The only indication of northern Nevada’s Chinese past is Nevada Historical Marker No. 29 located in Sparks. The plaque, dedicated in 1964, celebrates Nevada’s centennial and the salutes the contributions of Chinese pioneers.

A more recent memorial—the Chinese Pagoda Pavilion—was built in Reno’s Rancho San Rafael Park in 1984 as a result of leftover funds donated by Reno’s Joss House Society. Today, these markers serve as the only remaining evidence of a displaced culture’s trials and tribulations in the Truckee Meadows.

Images

Reno's Chinatown ca. 1900
Reno's Chinatown ca. 1900 An image of Reno's Chinatown ca. 1900 shows the wooden structures typical of the neighborhood. Source: Nevada Historical Society Date: ca. 1900
Chinatown on the move
Chinatown on the move After a massive fire burned down the original Chinatown, located near Virginia Street along the river, a deeply prejudiced article published in the Reno Evening Gazette on August 2, 1878 discussed the construction of a new Chinatown further east. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: August 2, 1878
A view of Chinatown ca. 1900
A view of Chinatown ca. 1900 A view of Reno's Chinatown from the south, seemingly showing one of the bridges built over the irrigation ditch that ran along the area's southern border. Source: Nevada Historical Society Creator: Samuel J. Hodgkinson
Cashes store in Chinatown
Cashes store in Chinatown Identified as "Cashes" store near East Front (now First) Street in Reno's Chinatown, this photo may show the store's proprietors and/or employees standing in front of the wood frame building. Source: Nevada Historical Society ETH-03018_A Date: 1900
Chinatown looking east
Chinatown looking east A photograph taken around 1900 is identified as looking east near Front (now First) Street. Source: Nevada Historical Society ETH-03019 Date: ca. 1900
Chinatown in 1906
Chinatown in 1906 A Sanborn fire insurance map of Chinatown in 1906 shows its location in the center of a "red light district" comprised of many brothels (marked "FB" for Female Boarding) on either side of Lake Street. Yellow denotes structures made of wood, while pink indicates brick construction. Source: U.S. Library of Congress Creator: Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Date: 1906
The razing of Chinatown, 1908
The razing of Chinatown, 1908 Residents of Chinatown stand in front of the remnants of Chinatown after it was razed in November 1908 after the Reno Board of Health had deemed its buildings a "physical and moral threat." Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: November 11, 1908
The last Joss House
The last Joss House Built in 1924 and pictured here around 1950, Reno's last Joss House was located just east of the intersection of First and Lake Streets. It was demolished in 1958 after falling into disrepair. Source: Nevada Historical Society ETH-03031 Date: ca. 1950
Joss House Pavilion
Joss House Pavilion After Chinatown's final Joss House was demolished in 1958, the trustees of the Joss House Society decided to fund the construction of a memorial to Reno's Chinese community, dedicating the Joss House Pavilion at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park in 1984. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2018
The site in 2018
The site in 2018 In 2018 the area east of Lake Street along the Truckee River was largely vacant. To its immediate east is a parking garage, and in the distance, Greater Nevada Field, site of soccer and baseball games. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2018

Location

Metadata

Edan Strekal, “Chinatown (site),” Reno Historical, accessed June 14, 2024, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/173.