Japantown and the Fillmore District
Summary and Keywords
Many Asian American neighborhoods faced displacement after World War II because of urban renewal or redevelopment under the 1949 Housing Act. In the name of blight removal and slum clearance this Act allowed local elites to procure federal money to seize land designated as blighted, clear it of its structures, and sell this land to private developers—in the process displacing thousands of residents, small businesses, and community institutions. San Francisco’s Fillmore District, a multiracial neighborhood that housed the city’s largest Japanese American and African American communities, experienced this postwar redevelopment. Like many Asian American neighborhoods that shared space with other communities of color, the Fillmore formed at the intersection of class inequality and racism, and it was this intersection of structural factors that led to substandard urban conditions. Rather than recognize the root causes of urban decline, San Francisco urban and regional elites argued that the Fillmore was among the city’s most blighted neighborhoods and advocated for the neighborhood’s destruction in the name of the public good. They also targeted the Fillmore because their postwar plans for remaking the city’s political economy envisioned the Fillmore as (1) a space to house white- collar workers in the postwar economy and (2) as an Asian-themed space for tourism that connected the city symbolically and economically to Japan, an important U.S. postwar ally. For over four decades these elite-directed plans for the Fillmore displaced more than 20,000 residents in two phases, severely damaging the community. The Fillmore’s redevelopment, then, provides a window into other cases of redevelopment and aids further investigations of the connection between Asian Americans and urban crisis. It also sheds light on the deeper history of displacement in the Asian American experience and contextualizes contemporary gentrification in Asian American neighborhoods.
Contextualizing Contemporary Displacement in Asian American Neighborhoods
Today Asian American urban neighborhoods face severe displacement pressures from gentrification. In 2013, for example, a multiracial coalition of residents, small business owners, and community organizers formed Chinatown Community for Equitable Development (CCED) to prevent the opening of a Walmart in Los Angeles Chinatown: CCED opposed the retail giant, citing Walmart’s poor labor practices, the deleterious effect that the chain store would have on Chinatown’s predominantly mom-and-pop stores, and the gentrification pressures that would lead to displacement of the neighborhood’s working-class Latino and Asian immigrant renters. Similar examples of gentrification and displacement can be found in East Coast Chinatowns where, for example, former New York City Mayor Bloomberg encouraged economic development–friendly rezoning. Philadelphia officials supported the expansion of luxury condominiums, and Boston-area universities have expanded their facilities—all of which have reduced the size of those cities’ Chinatowns and encouraged the displacement of residents and businesses.1
These examples illustrate the widespread threat that working-class Asian American urban neighborhoods are currently facing due to corporate- and private-developer-sponsored, municipally backed gentrification.2 This threat is very real, but it is also a threat that is not new, but rather has broader historical antecedents. Understanding these antecedents help us contextualize the recent threats to Asian American spaces and neighborhoods and leads us to a broad history of Asian American geographies. These antecedents include the larger history of the racialization of Asian American spaces, historical attempts to displace Asian American ethnic enclaves, and the long struggle of Asian Americans to prevent their displacement and claim a “right to the city.”3 Such struggles around space and place include mob violence and municipal attempts to eliminate Asian American ethnic enclaves in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They also include the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans, the fight to save the International Hotel between the late 1960s and 1970s, and the large-scale, federally funded attempts to redevelop so-called blighted areas and slums after the World War II.4 This last example, redevelopment, bears greater attention. Because of its widespread impact, particularly on the U.S. West Coast, redevelopment is a key historical moment when Asian American urban neighborhoods faced elimination. Following World War II, city governments utilized federal law to target so-called slums and blighted neighborhoods for demolition and subsequent rebuilding in conjunction with private developers that included Asian American communities in Stockton, California; Seattle, Washington; Sacramento, California; Los Angeles, California; and San Francisco, California.
The attempts to redevelop San Francisco’s Japantown, located approximately a mile northwest of the downtown central business district (CBD) and part of a larger multiracial and multiethnic neighborhood known as the “Fillmore District” or the “Western Addition,” offers an illustrative example of urban renewal’s impact on Asian American enclaves. It was redeveloped between the 1950s and 1980s. Arguably, the Fillmore was targeted, in part, because of the longer history connecting racism and space in the city: that is, the “racialization of space,” which resulted in attempts to contain, surveil, police, and sometimes eliminate Asian American and multiracial spaces. The Fillmore was also targeted because urban elites believed that existing communities in proposed redevelopment project areas did not fit their plans for postwar development and urban restructuring. Careful attention, then, needs to be paid to these redevelopment plans and the language that diverse elites utilized to promote urban renewal in the Fillmore and in other contemporaneous locations where Asian Americans and other communities of color faced urban renewal. In the end, Fillmore’s two redevelopment phases displaced approximately 20,000 individuals (with nearly 2 million people being displaced nationally by urban renewal and interstate construction). The loss of home and community, with their strong sense of place, caused residents to mobilize against displacement, resulting in changes in redevelopment policy toward building rehabilitation (rather than demolition) and nominally greater community consultation. This resistance was mirrored in locations across the United States.
Racialization of Space
Urban renewal policy pathologized urban space as a slum or as afflicted with urban blight, both socially constructed conditions that redevelopment proponents argued could spread throughout a city and infect additional spaces. As such, this intersectional discourse of urban crisis was not only heavily racialized but, in turn, highlighted the social construction of race as an inherently spatial process that relies on spatial metaphors, spatial relations, and the use of space to produce racial difference; it ‘otherizes’ social groups and the spaces they inhabit and traverse. This complex process of racializing space is nothing new, as it began occurring even before the mid-20th century’s urban renewal heyday. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, white portrayals of Asian American neighborhoods discursively painted the residents, homes, and businesses in these districts as filthy, crime- and disease-ridden, dangerous zones of potential racial intermixture. These zones were also portrayed as non-heteronormative and as evidence of Asian immigrants’ inability to assimilate rather than a product of structural racism and discursive alchemy.5
Why were Asian immigrants and their spaces racialized? Some have argued that Chinese immigrants were the “indispensable enemy” for resurrecting the fortunes of both the Democratic Party and also of the white labor movement in the U.S. West after the Civil War, as both groups deployed anti-Chinese nativism to draw supporters and material resources.6 Asian immigrants were also the “indispensable enemy” or discursive foil for the formation of the white race—a process that was spatialized where Asian ethnic enclaves directly and indirectly helped define the nation as white, the boundaries of propriety, and the privileges and protections of heteronormative whiteness.7 Thus, the racialization of space drew upon and intersected with processes of foreigner racialization and Orientalist discourse that were, in turn, enmeshed within practices of empire and nation building.8
Given the racialization of Asian American urban spaces, municipalities attempted to police and contain enclave space and their inhabitants, sanctioned white attempts to drive out enclave residents, and sponsored efforts to displace and/or relocate enclaves. Starting in the late 19th century, municipal police and public health departments cited the supposed vice and filth threat of Asian enclaves to investigate them, write reports on their supposed dangers, arrest individuals for allegedly endangering the public good, and attempt to shut down businesses. In short, portraying Asian American neighborhoods as a threat justified the expansion of municipal police powers over public health and proved formative in the development of modern-day zoning and nuisance law in West Coast cities.9 This surveillance, harassment, and potential arrest also policed the behavior of whites who might be led astray by the proximity of alleged vice—in other words, the intimate relations of whites and non-whites were being surveilled and policed.10 The state also sanctioned white resident attempts to eliminate Asian American enclaves. Nightly Workingmen’s Party rallies in the late 1860s and 1870s called for elimination of Chinatowns and the forced repatriation of Chinese immigrants and led not only to the 1871 massacre and lynching of as many as twenty of Los Angeles’s Chinatown residents but also drove Chinese residents out of rural areas and smaller towns and cities along the West Coast in the 1870s and 1880s, among them Tacoma, Washington.11 Some municipalities attempted to relocate Asian American enclaves by force. Although their efforts were overturned in federal court, San Francisco’s supervisors passed a racial zoning ordinance, the 1890 Bingham Ordinance, which declared the city’s Chinatown a public nuisance and attempted to relocate it and its residents to the Bayview neighborhood, approximately five miles south, where the city had zoned for “offensive trades.”12 Similarly, eminent domain was used in the 1930s to remove a Japanese American community in San Francisco’s South Park neighborhood to construct the Bay Bridge, while Los Angeles’s Old Chinatown was removed for the construction of Union Station, which displaced Chinese Americans, Latinos and Latinas, and working-class whites from a neighborhood regularly portrayed as a dangerous “eyesore.”13
The previous examples of threatened displacement and outright removal were precursors to post–World War II redevelopment and relied on socio-spatial processes that racialized space. These processes, in turn, manufactured and trafficked in discourses of racialized and spatialized danger and decay, making residents of ethnic enclaves and multiracial neighborhoods susceptible to harassment and the neighborhoods themselves vulnerable to containment and removal.14 The neighborhoods were viewed as foreign, or as external to the larger body politic—the spatial manifestation of foreigner racialization—and hence, as disposable. In addition, while the vulnerability of Asian American spaces to displacement reflects the West Coast’s particular historical racial formation, the processes of displacement were built on a foundation of prior racialized expropriation and dispossession that justified attacks on and elimination of indigenous and Mexican communities, made the land alienable, and protected white male property ownership.15 In short, displacement was predicated on and sanctioned by prior dispossessions—its discourses, logics, techniques, accrued privileges—and its ghosts.
The end of World War II brought renewed state attempts to displace communities of color. Here key legislative changes and the strategic use of spatial language sanctioned this displacement. While many prewar interests had decried poor housing conditions in neighborhoods of color, lack of legislation with budgeted funding, as well as Asian American resistance, impeded the wholesale demolition of these so-called eyesores. Ironically such criticism recognized poor conditions in racialized communities while overlooking their root causes, including denial of municipal services, landlord neglect, and the Great Depression, which together produced declining conditions. In this sense, urban decline was rooted in material conditions of racial capitalism and their intersection with asymmetrical power relations rooted in economic disparities and entrenched structural and institutional racism.16 Starting in the 1930s, different interests called on state and federal governments to address urban decay, in the process creating a discourse known as “urban crisis.” It portrayed cities as beset by spreading socio-spatial ills and as dangers to white heteronormative society, a discourse that was highly racialized, classed, and gendered as well.17 Although the discourse has been described in terms of its impact on African Americans, on the West Coast, racist portrayals of Asian Americans and their spaces helped define and manufacture notions of urban crisis.18 These West Coast neighborhoods, thus, became singled out for postwar state intervention, and redevelopment policy can be interpreted as the culmination of decades of the racialization of space.
The United States’s victory in the war changed approaches to urban problems, as newfound global hegemony and a modernist sense of purpose emboldened the state to tackle urban crisis directly via rebuilding infrastructure and vigorously attacking urban decay through redevelopment. As such, the policy’s proponents believed that any displacement and destruction resulting from redevelopment was justified in the name of a universal “public good.”
To this end, Congress passed two laws that directly stimulated neighborhood redevelopment, the 1949 Housing Act and the 1956 Interstate and Defense Highways Act. Although the 1956 Highways Act impacted many of the same communities affected by urban renewal, the Housing Act had a particularly dramatic effect on communities like the Fillmore. This Act laid out three main provisions. The first continued the government’s support for suburbanization, which effectively subsidized the creation of suburbia and the middle-class as largely white by underwriting mortgages and sanctioning racially restrictive covenants and mortgage redlining. The second provision authorized urban renewal to clear slums and blighted areas with the federal government covering two-thirds of redevelopment project costs, which paid for building condemnation and clearance, municipalities covering the final third, and private developers implementing actual development. The third provision funded public housing construction for those displaced by urban renewal, although conservatives found such housing anathema and undermined this provision.19
Given the historical racialization of Asian American spaces and the postwar association of these spaces with urban crisis, municipalities began employing the 1949 Housing Act to designate these neighborhoods as slums and blighted areas to procure funding under the law. The notion of urban blight was a crucial element in postwar urban crisis discourse. Its usage likened blighted areas to diseased plants in a crop that needed to be eliminated to prevent the spread of illness. Afflicted neighborhoods were to be amputated from the urban body to save the remaining city from this social-spatial disease. Urban blight’s definition was broad: it included physical manifestations such as dilapidated housing, economic manifestations such as excessive public service costs, and social manifestations such as presence of juvenile delinquency and crime. While any one of these aspects was sufficient to designate blight, in the Fillmore’s case (as in other locations) blight was portrayed as a multi-vectored threat that elided the economic, physical, and social.20 For example, when the postwar redevelopment coalition characterized the Fillmore as severely blighted, they rearticulated prior discourses of racialized and spatialized disorder. For example, the 1930s Homeowner Loan Corporation’s (HOLC) “residential security maps” for the Fillmore described the neighborhood as San Francisco’s “slum,” specifically pointing to the presence of African Americans, Japanese, and other “hazardous infiltrating subversive groups.”21 Similarly, in 1947 the San Francisco Planning and Housing Association, made up of local business, political, and social welfare elites, published Blight and Taxes, which characterized the Fillmore as a drain on public resources, including policing and fire protection, and decried the neighborhood’s dangerous diversity.22
In declaring the Fillmore blighted in 1948, pro-redevelopment elites utilized existing discourses and built upon previous displacement attempts of racialized neighborhoods. Together the pre- and postwar racialization of Asian American spaces and their intersection with foreigner racialization suggest that the discursive and spatial incorporation of Asian Americans within a notion of the “public” has been conditional at best and in practice often nonexistent. Thus, post–World War II urban renewal in the Fillmore and in other locations, such as Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo/Bronzeville or Sacramento’s West End, can be interpreted as the culmination and confluence of processes of foreigner racialization, racial triangulation, and the racialization of space.23
In practice, urban renewal projects resulted in the expansion of central business districts (CBDs) rather than rebuilding targeted areas for existing residents. The interests that supported CBD-focused urban renewal, also known as pro-redevelopment coalitions, represented a contradictory amalgamation of different interests, including corporate leaders, real estate investors, local politicians, and social reformers. Propertied interests in these coalitions redirected urban renewal toward expanding downtown office building space, building new upscale housing for white-collar workers, and constructing luxury hotels, instead of supporting more general urban reform and renovation of existing structures with local community input.24 The policy also was typified early on by “total clearance,” which meant that the community had little voice in the redevelopment process. Little assistance was offered to help relocate the displaced, and the displaced had little recourse to return, resulting in eventual resistance against redevelopment.
In addition to remaking downtown, redevelopment had far wider impacts. It spurred developers to engage in development outside designated project areas, which impacted Asian American neighborhoods. For example, the Asian American Movement’s fight to save the International Hotel in San Francisco’s Manilatown and Chinatown area, which was not a formal redevelopment project area, began when the owner attempted to evict a hundred largely senior Filipino and Chinese American tenants to build a parking lot for downtown commuters.25 In turn, urban renewal projects in the city’s South of Market Area, its Embarcadero, and the Fillmore, increased pressure for privately funded development in other parts of the city.
Because business interests dominated the redevelopment process, many residents and small businesses in project areas had little substantive say in shaping the renewal process, particularly in the first twenty years. Thus, by the mid-1960s communities began organizing actively and in large numbers against the destructive effects of displacement, loss of community, and dispossession. Eventually these mobilizations forced authorities to alter redevelopment policy and include greater community voice within the process. This voice was merely symbolic in some locations. But in others, community groups attempted to control the redevelopment process. Thus, resistance to redevelopment helped stall the renewal process and occasionally saved key sites from destruction or won concessions from authorities. Although President Richard Nixon formally ended redevelopment in the late 1960s, the policy had already shattered affected communities with the effects being felt most heavily on vulnerable seniors, monolingual immigrants, the working class, small business proprietors, renters, and people of color, who were displaced by the thousands.
These deleterious effects were not limited to urban renewal. Highway construction also resulted in substantial neighborhood destruction and dispossession. The 1956 Interstate Act funded the construction of $27 billion of interstate highways but also demolished thousands of homes, businesses, and community spaces to make way for freeway construction. In practice, the sites for proposed interstate construction tended to be locations already identified as blighted. Thus, the 1956 law functioned as a form of redevelopment.26
This highway construction affected many Asian American neighborhoods. For example, the construction of the Crosstown Freeway and Interstate 5 eviscerated Stockton’s Little Manila and Chinatown between 1961 and 1975.27 Similarly, I-5 dislocated residents and businesses in Seattle’s panethnic International District and multiracial Central District in the early 1960s and in Sacramento’s West End neighborhood, which housed Asian Americans, African Americans, and working-class whites. In Los Angeles, freeway construction destroyed parts of the Japanese American Sawtelle district in West Los Angeles and many parts of the multiracial and multiethnic East Los Angeles.28 Thus, displacement (whether caused by urban renewal, freeway construction, or private development) was a more generalized experience for postwar Asian Americans neighborhoods and other vulnerable communities.
San Francisco’s Redevelopment Coalition and the Fillmore
San Francisco’s urban renewal and redevelopment proponents included CEO’s of downtown corporations, such Macy’s department store, William Randolph Hearst, the editor of the San Francisco Examiner, local and state politicians, urban planners, real estate developers, and social welfare advocates. Later, as the Fillmore redevelopment plan unfolded, the pro-growth coalition would be joined by representatives of Japanese corporations, which helped develop and manage a Japanese-themed mall in the Fillmore.29
Members of this coalition had long declaimed that the Fillmore was among the city’s most rundown neighborhoods, a sentiment that dated from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake that destroyed much of the downtown area but left the Fillmore, to the West of downtown, intact. As a result, the neighborhood became inundated with earthquake survivors fleeing the destruction of homes and businesses. Buildings in the former white middle-class Fillmore District became subdivided into apartments to house the new residents and their businesses. Land uses became a mix of residential, commercial, and industrial, and the neighborhood’s racial and ethnic makeup became equally diverse. The neighborhood’s Japantown dates from this period. When the city’s previous Japanese ethnic enclave, which was located within San Francisco’s Chinatown, burned to the ground with the downtown’s destruction, Japanese immigrants and their families eventually built up a 5,000-resident enclave in the Fillmore neighborhood, located next to and among working-class ethnic whites (Jews and Russians), Latinos, other Asian American ethnic groups (namely Filipino and Chinese), and African Americans. Later the neighborhood became the heart of the city’s African American community during World War II when more than forty thousand African Americans from the South came in search of wartime jobs. Like Japanese Americans before them, these new migrants were barred from living in many parts of the city and were forced to cram into already segregated neighborhoods such as the Fillmore, whose Japanese Americans had been evacuated and imprisoned in concentration camps within the U.S. interior, a process that dispossessed Japanese American citizens and immigrants alike.30 For expediency’s sake, city authorities allowed African Americans to move into the vacated Japantown spaces, turning the Fillmore into a predominately African American community, the cultural and social heart of this new community replete with blues and jazz clubs, and key faith-based and social institutions. The neighborhood became known as the “Harlem of the West,” much like Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo, where African American wartime migration resulted in the neighborhood becoming known as “Bronzeville.” In response to this new influx, Fillmore landlords further subdivided apartments. In short, the densely diverse, multiracial, and multiethnic Fillmore District that had been the immediate target of postwar redevelopment was produced out of the needs of wartime capitalism, of dispossession, and of intense segregation, all of which thrived on the exploitation of racialized vulnerability.
Urban renewal in the Fillmore was part of a larger plan to reshape the entire Bay Area regional political economy. Beginning during World War II, Bay Area economic and political leaders saw the need for greater regional economic coordination and planning. With the war’s end, this elite, through organizations such as the Bay Area Council, envisioned the South Bay as the center for technology, the East Bay as the center of light industry and oil refining, and San Francisco as the center for tourism and white-collar professional services, shifting away from shipping and blue-collar manufacturing.31 Given its relative proximity to the downtown area, this elite saw the Fillmore as a site to house employees in this new service-based economy and as a potential tourist attraction. Consequently, instead of apartments and modest homes housing seniors, the white working-class, and people of color, this elite envisioned new upscale apartments and condominiums for white-collar professionals in the Fillmore, and instead of a Japanese American and multiracial space, this elite saw the neighborhood as a site to promote ties to the Pacific Rim and to generate Asian-themed tourism. Here the pro-growth coalition’s interests in tourism dovetailed with postwar Orientalism: San Francisco, like Seattle and Los Angeles, desired to become the West Coast’s gateway to the Pacific Rim after the United States’s victory against Japan and thus saw part of the Fillmore’s redevelopment as an opportunity to promote the city’s and the region’s ties to Japan and Asia.
To these ends, the Fillmore was redeveloped in two phases: the first project, Western Addition Project Area 1 (WA-1), redeveloped twenty-eight city blocks between 1956 to 1973, affecting a core section of the city’s Japantown through the construction of new luxury housing and roadway improvements, and the second, Western Addition Project Area 2 (WA-2), redeveloped seventy blocks between 1966 to 2008, affecting part of Japantown and a large section of the neighborhood’s African American community for the construction of the Nihonmachi Mall, more new housing, and a failed mall development known as the Fillmore Center.32
Significantly, WA-1 included the widening of Geary Boulevard into an eight-lane expressway within the Fillmore to help facilitate the downtown commute for new residents in the Fillmore and for commuters living across the Golden Gate Bridge in posh Marin County and along the Avenues in San Francisco’s middle-class Richmond District. This roadway project, the new housing construction, and the building of a four-block-long mall and entertainment complex along Geary between Laguna and Steiner, known as the Japanese Cultural and Trade Center (JCTC), ended up displacing eight thousand individuals and destroying significant numbers of low-income housing units in the WA-1 project area. Tellingly, the JCTC was WA-1’s cornerstone development, which redevelopment proponents hoped would promote both tourism and also economic and symbolic ties to Asia. In other words, the Center was “imagineered” as a gateway to the Pacific Rim, a symbol of San Francisco’s supposed love for Japan and for the Japanese people.33 Such a sentiment reflected changing postwar international relations in which Japan shifted from being depicted as a demonized and racialized enemy to being portrayed as a bulwark ally in Asia against the Soviet threat. These geopolitical shifts subsequently affected views of Asian Americans who were still subject to foreigner racialization but no longer viewed primarily as enemy aliens.34 It should be emphasized that San Francisco’s redevelopment imagineers seemed unable to distinguish the city’s Japantown space from Japan and its Japanese Americans from Japanese, the result of both foreigner racialization as well as postwar Orientalism and its consequent desires for Asian riches. Developed in conjunction with transnational Japanese capital, Hawaii-based but Issei-run National-Braemer Incorporated, and the Kintetsu Corporation (a subsidiary of the Kenki-Nippon Railway Corporation), the JCTC opened to great fanfare on the pro-growth coalition’s part in 1968. It included space for the Japanese Consulate, a Japanese-themed luxury hotel, the Miyako, a Japanese-designed concrete Peace Pagoda and Peace Plaza commemorating the friendship between Japan and San Francisco, a thousand-seat theater to stage kabuki and other variety shows, and a three-building mall that housed offices to promote trade and tourism with Japan, branches of Japanese restaurants and retail stores, and spaces to demonstrate Japanese culture and exhibit the latest Japanese exports. The JCTC was indeed ambitious, but the project proved to be an economic failure, and various business, including its kabuki theater, went out of business within three years.
Planning for WA-2 began in the late 1950s, but a federal lawsuit contesting the use of eminent domain for redevelopment and mass resident mobilization against the project delayed demolition. Regarding the latter, Fillmore residents, like residents in many redevelopment project areas, found the lack of consultation, blanket displacement, and dispossession of total clearance to be insufferable. In response, a multiracial and multiethnic group of renters, homeowners, progressive clergy, students, and community organizers mobilized through an umbrella organization called the Western Addition Community Organization (WACO) against WA-2, utilizing grassroots organizing, direct action, and eventually a lawsuit that won a short-lived injunction against the project in 1968. Planning for WA-2 and subsequent demolition resumed by early 1969. However, in response to mobilization in multiple locations, the federal government began moving away from total clearance toward supposedly greater community consultation and collaboration in the redevelopment process. Thus, WA-2 included numerous low-income housing units for seniors that were developed with area African American and Japanese American churches, and the Nihonmachi Mall, which was developed in the mid-1970s with Japanese American business owners and leaders along with the transnational Kintetsu Corporation. Despite the involvement of mostly Nisei business owners in this open-air mall’s development, members of the local Asian American Movement and a multiracial group of renters and small business owners, who were being displaced by the four-block project, organized the Committee Against Nihonmachi Eviction (CANE) to resist this development. They felt that the efforts of the Nisei business group, the RDA, and the Kintetsu Corporation promoted tourism and self-interest to the detriment of the most vulnerable renters and small business owners. However, despite spirited resistance, CANE, WACO, and WACO’s successor, the Western Addition Project Area Committee (WAPAC), failed to stop the WA-2 redevelopment. The RDA proved particularly resistant to WAPAC’s efforts to become the community’s oversight body for the A-2 process, despite a Housing and Urban Development directive that redevelopment projects needed to have community input. In addition to resident mobilization, the pace of redevelopment began slowing by the late 1970s and 1980s because the RDA was having difficulty finding developers for cleared A-2 plots, which spoke to the changing political economic climate and to the racialization of the Fillmore’s space and the association of parts of the neighborhood with blackness. The absence of developers was one of the reasons why the RDA turned increasingly to church groups to build senior housing in A-2. But redevelopment also slowed because federal urban policy changed. Lack of investment meant that some plots of land remained empty for years, becoming their own eyesores, a symbol of failure in Keynesian urban liberalism and the overreach of top-down planning.35 Thus, little development occurred in WA-2 during 1990s and early 2000s until a development group proposed a jazz heritage center and theater in the African American portion of the neighborhood, whose completion allowed the RDA to officially sunset WA-2 in 2008. By this time, WA-2 had eventually displaced 13,500 individuals, some for the second or third time, and destroyed another 5,000 low-rent units, arguably levelling the remaining heart of the Fillmore.36
Despite redevelopment, many of the Fillmore’s diverse members remained in parts of the neighborhood, several key institutions remained or were relocated, and new spaces developed community significance: one example is the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, a hard-won concession from the RDA and a testament to the creativity of local knowledge.37 Yet the integument, the complex layer of historical associations and experiences that had been community, was badly frayed and for some sundered. Urban renewal’s devastation lay well beyond the numbers of individuals displaced or buildings destroyed. Rather, it embodied the cumulative impact that the loss of home, loss of neighborhood ties, and loss of sense of place wrought on the displaced and on those who managed to stay. In other words, dispossession and its concomitant community-wide shock produced far deeper wounds.38
The Broader Impact of Urban Renewal on Asian American Communities
In conclusion, the Fillmore’s redevelopment was not isolated. Total clearance typified displacement in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo/Bronzeville neighborhood in the 1950s, when eminent domain was used to build a new police headquarters, and in Sacramento’s West End in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when that city redeveloped its downtown for the Capitol Mall project. Each of these projects displaced over a thousand residents, community businesses, and the Sacramento project entirely obliterated that city’s Japantown and the core of its African American community.39 Likewise, in the mid-1970s the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency pursued a new Japanese-themed renewal project in Little Tokyo and worked with a Japanese corporation, the Kajima Corporation, to build a mall and luxury hotel, the New Otani, that like San Francisco’s JCTC, would promote tourism and ties with Asia.40 This project was opposed by the Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization (LTPRO), which, like CANE, comprised AAM organizers, residents, older activists, and merchants, sought to defend the neighborhood’s most vulnerable residents (immigrants and seniors) in single-room occupancy hotels (SROs).41 Seattle’s International District Improvement Association (Inter*Im) also mobilized to defend Asian American seniors in the Milwaukee Hotel in 1977, which was threatened with closure because it did not meet the city’s building code.42 Finally, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in other cities mobilized against displacement from expanding tourism. Seattle’s Inter*Im opposed building a new baseball stadium in the late 1960s, and Honolulu organizers fought eviction from expansion of luxury hotels and upscale condominiums in Kalama Valley and the Waiahole-Waikane Valleys during the 1970s.43 Arguably, many of these struggles drew inspiration from the Asian American Movement and its place-based struggles, e.g., over the Fillmore or Manilatown’s International Hotel.
There are many more examples of late 20th century displacement in Asian America and in other structurally vulnerable places due to redevelopment, freeway construction, property speculation, and gentrification that have resulted in loss of home, sense of place, and community. These struggles, along with contemporary 21st century gentrification are genealogically linked to these prior displacements through the racialization of space and techniques of dispossession.
Discussion of the Literature
For a history of the African American Fillmore see Broussard , Daniels, Pepin and Watts, and Oaks.44 For Japantown’s history, see Okazaki, Wong , and the Japantown Taskforce.45 As of now, no single scholarly study focuses on these racialized communities together: see Kurashige for an analysis of the African American and Japanese American struggle for housing in postwar Los Angeles.46
See Hartman with Carnochan for a comprehensive discussion of the history of postwar planning in San Francisco.47 Read also Mollenkopf for an analysis of San Francisco’s pro-growth coalition.48 A more general discussion of urban blight discourse and how it was racialized and deployed to justify redevelopment can be found in Beauregard and in Sugrue, but see also Anderson and Shah for discursive analyses of Chinatown and of the racialization of space.49 Also reference Thomas and Thomas and Ritzdorf to understand the devastating effects of urban renewal on African American communities.50
For an analysis of redevelopment in Japantown, reference Seigel, Tatsuno, Morozumi, Okazaki, Oda, and Lai.51 Personal accounts of resistance against redevelopment in Japantown can be found in Ho et al. and in Louie and Omatsu.52 Academic accounts of resistance against redevelopment in Japantown can be found in Okita; Geron; Yoshikawa; Liu, Geron, and Lai; and Lai.53 For African American mobilization against redevelopment, please read Biondi and Crowe.54
One of the first primary sources to consult on the Fillmore’s urban renewal is San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (RDA) and San Francisco Planning Department reports on the Fillmore District or Western Addition. In 1945, the then San Francisco Planning Commission published The Master Plan of San Francisco: The Redevelopment of Blighted Areas, which identified San Francisco’s key blighted neighborhoods in need of slum clearance or “blight removal.” Two years later planner Mel Scott (wrote Western Addition District: An Exploration of the Possibilities of Replanning and Rebuilding One of San Francisco’s Largest Blighted Districts Under the California Community Redevelopment Act of 1945 for the Planning Commission. Along with the San Francisco Planning and Housing Association’s (1947) Blight and Taxes and the City and County of San Francisco Supervisors’ (1948) report, Public Hearing on Redevelopment of the Western Addition, the hearing that officially declared the Fillmore blighted, these reports articulated both the city’s and local development elites’ views of the multiracial and multiethnic Fillmore District and their hopes for the neighborhood’s remaking.
One should also reference the RDA’s (1956) The Redevelopment Plan for the Western Addition Approved Redevelopment Project Area A-1 and planner Aaron Levine’s (1959) SFRA-commissioned The Urban Renewal of San Francisco report, both of which rearticulated the Fillmore’s blighted status and outline redevelopment plans for this neighborhood. Another primary source is the RDA’s annual reports, which summarize demolition, clearance, and rebuilding progress in its redevelopment project areas, including Western Addition A-1 and A-2. These annual reports name key developers and community partners for specific development projects, and occasionally they offer a glimpse into opposition to redevelopment.
The RDA and Planning Department reports are readily accessible at the UC Berkeley Environmental Design Library as well as in the Archives Room at the San Francisco Public Library. The Environmental Design Library also holds meetings minutes from the SFRA Board, which adds additional information about redevelopment plans, opposition to redevelopment, and the varied interests behind urban renewal. The Public Library’s Archive Room includes papers, reports, and correspondence regarding the JCTC’s construction and opening; correspondence regarding the RDA and specific projects such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Square development; copies of Freedom House, an organization that opposed A-2; papers on WACO, including copies of its newsletter The WACO Organizer; the and papers for relevant mayoral administrations. The Public Library also holds primary source documents related to Jim Jones’s Peoples’ Temple, whose membership included many Fillmore residents who had lost their homes due to redevelopment and whose main San Francisco church was based in the Fillmore. In addition to the public library, one can reference RDA materials through the city’s Office on Community Investment and Infrastructure (OCII). Prior to its disbanding in 2011, the SFRA kept papers, newspaper clippings, photographs, and reports in its Records Room on Van Ness Avenue. The OCII has relocated to a new site.
Local newspapers are also excellent primary sources to understand redevelopment in the Fillmore. Mainstream newspapers include the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle. In addition, one should reference community-based newspapers, including Carlton Goodlett’s The Fillmore Sun for coverage of the neighborhood’s African American community. In the Japanese American community, read articles and editorials in the now-defunct Hokubei Mainichi, and Nichibei Times.
Lastly, primary source material on redevelopment resistance includes newsletters, flyers, photographs, and meeting minutes kept by activists and organizations, including Freedom House, Western Addition Community Organization, Western Addition Project Area Committee, and Committee Against Nihonmachi Evictions. These can be found in the Japanese American National Library, the San Francisco Library’s Archives Room, and the San Francisco Archdiocese’s archives room.
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(1.) Bethany Li, et al., Chinatown Then and Now: Gentrification in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia (New York: Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund [AALDEF]), 2013.
(2.) Neil Smith, “New Globalism, New Urbanism: Gentrification as Global Urban Strategy,” Antipode 34.3 (2002): 427–450.
(3.) Henri Lefebvre, “The Right to the City” in Writings on Cities, ed. and trans. Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1997), 147–159.
(4.) Harvey Dong, “The Origins and Trajectory of the Asian American Movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1868–1978” (PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 2002); and Estella Habal, San Francisco’s International Hotel: Mobilizing the Filipino American Community in the Anti-Eviction Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007).
(5.) Kay Anderson, Vancouver’s Chinatown: Racial Discourse in Canada, 1875–1980 (Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1991); Nayan Shah, Contagious Divide: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); and Nayan Shah, Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality, and the Law in the North American West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).
(6.) Alexander Saxton, The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).
(7.) Anderson, Vancouver’s Chinatown; Shah, Contagious Divides; Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996).
(8.) Edward Said, Orientalism, (London: Penguin, 2003); Angelo Ancheta, Race, Rights, and the Asian American Experience (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006); Andrea Smith, “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy,” in The Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology, eds. Andrea Smith, Beth Richie, Julia Sudbury, Janelle White, and Incite! Women of Color Against Violence (Boston: South End, 2006), 66–73.
(9.) Shah, Contagious Divides; Paul Ong, “The Chinese and the Laundry Laws, the Use and Control of Urban Space,” (PhD dissertation, University of Washington, 1975); and Charles McClain, In Search of Equality: The Chinese Struggle Against Discrimination in Nineteenth-Century America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
(10.) Shah, Stranger Intimacy.
(11.) Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (Boston: Little, Brown, 1998); and Jean Pfaelzer, Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008).
(12.) McClain, In Search, 223–233.
(13.) Suzie Okazaki, Nihonmachi: A Story of San Francisco’s Japantown (SKO Studios, 1985); Isabela Quintana, “Shaken as by an Earthquake: Chinese Americans, Segregation and Displacement in Los Angeles, 1870–1938,” Gum Saan Journal 32.1 (2010): 3–23; and Mark Wild, Street Meeting: Multiethnic Neighborhoods in Early Twentieth-Century Los Angeles, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).
(14.) Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Race and Globalization,” in Geographies of Global Change, eds. P. J. Taylor, R. L. Johnstone, and M.J. Watts, (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002), 261–274. Gilmore defines racism as vulnerability to premature death.
(15.) Andrea Smith, “Three Pillars”; and Shah, Stranger Intimacy.
(16.) Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
(17.) Thomas Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996); and Robert Beauregard, Voices of Decline: The Postwar Fate of Us Cities (New York: Routledge, 2003).
(18.) Scott. Kurashige, The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).
(19.) Kenneth Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); Eric Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006); Laura Pulido, “Rethinking Environmental Racism: White Privilege and Urban Development in Southern California,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 90.1 (2000): 12–40; Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Globalisation and US Prison Growth: From Military Keynesianism to Post-Keynesian Militarism,” Race & Class 40.2–3 (1998): 171–188; and Donald Parson, Making a Better World: Public Housing, the Red Scare, and the Direction of Modern Los Angeles (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005).
(20.) Lai, “Racial Triangulation of Space.”
(21.) “San Francisco D-3,” Testbed for the Redlining Archives of California’s Exclusionary Spaces (T-RACES).
(22.) San Francisco Planning and Housing Association. Blight and Taxes (San Francisco: San Francisco Planning and Housing Association, 1947).
(23.) Claire Kim, “The Racial Triangulation of Asian Americans,” Politics and Society 27.1 (1999): 105–138; Kurashige, Shifting Grounds; Clement Lai, “The Racial Triangulation of Space: The Case of Urban Renewal in San Francisco’s Fillmore District,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 102.1 (2012): 151–170; and KVIE, “Replacing the Past: Sacramento’s Redevelopment History,” ViewFinder.
(24.) Chester Hartman with Sarah Carnochan, City for Sale: The Transformation of San Francisco (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).
(25.) Dong, “The Origins and Trajectory of the Asian American Movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1868–1978”; and Habal, San Francisco’s International Hotel: Mobilizing the Filipino American Community in the Anti-Eviction Movement.
(26.) Avila, Popular Culture; and Eric Avila, The Folklore of the Freeway: Race and Revolt in the Modernist City (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).
(27.) Dawn Mabalon, Little Manila is in the Heart: The Making of the Filipina/o American Community in Stockton, California (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013).
(28.) Avila, Popular Culture.
(29.) John Mollenkopf, The Contested City, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983).
(30.) Newsletters of the Committee Against Nihonmachi Eviction, Japanese American National Library, San Francisco, CA; Keith Aoki, “No Right to Own? The Early Twentieth-Century ‘Alien Land Laws’ as a Prelude to Internment,” Boston College Law Review 40 (1998): 37–72.
(31.) Hartman and Carnochan, City for Sale.
(32.) Shizue Seigel, “Nihonmachi and Urban Renewal,” Nikkei Heritage 12/13, no. 4/1 (2000): 6–9 and 20–24.
(33.) Lai, “Racial Triangulation of Space.”
(34.) John Dower, War Without Mercy Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York: Pantheon, 1993); and Charlotte Brooks, Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends: Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).
(35.) James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998).
(36.) Seigel, “Nihonmachi.”
(37.) Scott, Seeing Like a State.
(38.) Mindy Fullilove, Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About it, (New York: One World/Ballantine, 2004); and Gilmore, “Globalisation.”
(39.) Kurashige, Shifting Grounds; Kelly Simpson, “Three Waves of Little Tokyo Redevelopment,” KCET: Departures, July 31, 2012; Ellen Endo, “Stakeholders: ‘Return Site to Little Tokyo’: LA Conservancy, JA Community At Odds Over Parker Center’s Fate,” Rafu Shimpo; Kevin Wildie, Sacramento’s Historic Japantown: Legacy of a Lost Neighborhood (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2013); and KVIE, “Replacing the Past.”
(40.) Michael Liu, Kim Geron, and Tracy Lai. The Snake Dance of Asian American Activism: Community, Vision, and Power (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2008).
(41.) Liu, Geron, and Lai, Snake Dance; Karen Ishizuka, Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties (New York: Verso, 2016).
(42.) Bob Santos, Hum Bows, Not Hot Dogs (Seattle: International Examiner, 2002); Doug Chin, Seattle’s International District: The Making of a Pan-Asian American Community (2d ed.) (Seattle: International Examiner, 2009); Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District From 1870 Through the Civil Rights Era, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994); and Jeffrey Sanders, Seattle and the Roots of Urban Sustainability: Inventing Ecotopia (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010).
(43.) Santos, Hum Bows; Chin, Seattle’s International District; Liu, Geron, and Lai, Snake Dance; and Noelani Goodyear-Ka’opua, The Seeds We Planted: Portraits of a Native Hawaiian Charter School (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).
(44.) Albert Broussard, Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Equality in the West, 1900–1954 (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1993); Douglas Daniels, Pioneer Urbanites: A Social and Cultural History of Black San Francisco (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990); Elizabeth Pepin and Lewis Watts. Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era (San Francisco: Chronicle, 2005); and Robert Oaks, San Francisco’s Fillmore District, (Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2005).
(45.) Suzie Okazaki, Nihonmachi: A Story of San Francisco’s Japantown (SKO Studios, 1985); Diane Wong, ed., Generations: A Japanese American Community Portrait, (San Francisco: Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, 2000); and Japantown Taskforce, Inc., San Francisco’s Japantown (Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2005).
(46.) Scott Kurashige, The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).
(47.) Chester Hartman and Sarah Carnochan, City for Sale: The Transformation of San Francisco (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).
(48.) John Mollenkopf, The Contested City (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983).
(49.) Robert Beauregard, Voices of Decline: The Postwar Fate of Us Cities (New York: Routledge, 2003); Thomas Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996); Kay Anderson, Vancouver’s Chinatown: Racial Discourse in Canada, 1875–1980 (Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1991); and Nayan Shah, Contagious Divide: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).
(50.) June Manning Thomas, Redevelopment and Race: Planning a Finer City in Postwar Detroit (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997); and June Manning Thomas and Marsha Ritzdorf, eds. Urban Planning and the African American Community: In the Shadows (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1997).
(51.) Shizue Seigel, “Nihonmachi and Urban Renewal,” Nikkei Heritage 12/13.4 (2000): 6–9 and 20–24; Sheridan Tatsuno, “The Political and Economic Effects of Urban Renewal on Ethnic Communities: A Case Study of San Francisco’s Japantown,” Amerasia Journal 1.1 (1971): 33–51; Toni Morozumi, “San Francisco’s Nihonmachi,” unpublished undergraduate paper, (Asian American Studies Department, University of California, Berkeley, 1977); Okazaki, Nihonmachi; Meredith Oda, “Remaking the ‘Gateway to the Pacific’: Urban, Economic, and Racial Redevelopment in San Francisco, 1945–1970,” PhD dissertation, University of Chicago, 2010; and Clement Lai, “The Racial Triangulation of Space: The Case of Urban Renewal in San Francisco’s Fillmore District,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 102.1 (2012): 151–170.
(52.) Ray Tasaki, “New Dawn Rising: History and Summary of the Japan Town Collective.” eds. Fred Ho, Carolyn Antonio, Diane Fujino, and Steve Yip, 53–57 (San Francisco: AK, 2000).
(53.) David Okita, “Redevelopment of San Francisco Japantown,” Master’s thesis, California State University, Hayward, 1980; Kim Geron, “Serve the People: An Exploration of the Asian American Movement,” in Asian American Politics: Law, Participation, and Policy, eds. Don Nakanishi, and James Lai, 163–179 (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003); Ernest Yoshikawa, “Japanese Community Politics: A Case Study of the Evolution of Political Style,” Master’s thesis (San Francisco State University, 2005); Michael Liu, Kim Geron, and Tracy Lai, The Snake Dance of Asian American Activism: Community, Vision, and Power (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2008); and Clement Lai, “Saving Japantown, Serving the People: The Scalar Politics of the Asian American Movement,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 31.3 (2013): 467–484.
(54.) Martha Biondi, The Black Revolution on Campus (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012); and Daniel Crowe, Prophets of Rage: The Black Freedom Struggle in San Francisco, 1945–1969 (New York: Garland, 2000).