RANCHO CUCAMONGA -- Members of Chinese American heritage preservation and culture groups are interested in saving the historic China House which is slated for demolition.

The building is a two-story red clay brick home built in 1919 to house Chinese laborers who found work on area farms and ranches and built water tunnels and irrigation ditches for the area. Historians say it's the last structural remnant of a Chinatown anywhere in the Inland Empire.

The city of Rancho Cucamonga, earlier this month, red-tagged the building on San Bernardino Road as unsafe. The Cucamonga Valley Water District, which owns the building, has 60 days to re-mediate the condition, which means that without funding for renovation or retrofitting work, the building is to be demolished, officials said.

Eugene Moy, of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, visits the China House in Rancho Cucamonga.
Eugene Moy, of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, visits the China House in Rancho Cucamonga. (Photo by Thomas Cordova, Staff)

"We are aware that it's really the last remaining structure in the Inland Empire that is evidence of the great presence of Chinese in the late 19th and early 20th century, so we're really concerned this might be a significant loss, however we're also aware there might be some structural problems," said Eugene Moy.

"We want to see if there's some way it could be saved."

Munson Kwok, a past president of the Chinese Historical Society and a member of the Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation, said his best hope is to preserve the structure entirely.

"This is a fine example, unfortunately, of the kind of thing we're worrying about," Kwok said. "Losing a structure before we even had a chance to learn its history."

A monument on the corner of the site, commemorating the Chinese laborers who had once lived in the house, is planned to be placed near the present location of the house. Bricks salvaged from the structure will be used for the monument, officials said.

"I think we can go further than just a monument," Moy said.

"Often times we often see a minimum or a bottom line effort. On the other hand if it seems feasible we can do something that can be of greater benefit to the community, not just a marker, let's say there can be an active interest in the place, to bring people here again and bring some life into this corner, that would be all the more meaningful for our community."

Members of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California and the Chinese American Citizens Alliance visited the site on Wednesday where they met with Edward Dietl of the Rancho Cucamonga Historic Preservation Association.

Dietl, who has been a leading figure in efforts to preserve the historical value of the site, is in favor of saving the building as well. He told the Chinese heritage group members they had to work fast and communicate with the city and the water district to delay the demolition and find money to retrofit the building.

"If you don't get somebody at the city by the first of January, it's going to be too late to beg somebody to hold off on demolition," Dietl said.

Dietl also warned the members it would take a lot of money to save the structure -- perhaps a million dollars he said.

Jo Lynne Russo-Pereyra, assistant general manager of the Cucamonga Valley Water District, said members of Chinese American heritage groups did contact her and told her they were interested in coming to look at the site.

"Other than that, they haven't made any contact beyond that," she said.

Russo-Pereyra said a specific time frame for demolition has yet to be determined.

Members of the Chinese American heritage groups said they plan to meet with representatives of the city and water district to discuss the issue.

City staff representatives could not immediately be reached for comment as City Hall is closed for the holidays until Wednesday.

Councilwoman Diane Williams said the City Council could extend the 60-day timeframe and as an individual councilmember she had no problem doing so. She added the water district has the ultimate decision on what to do with the property. The council meets at City Hall for a public meeting again on Jan. 16. 

"What I suggest is they get a letter to each of us, as well as the Engineering Department, and express to us what they plan to do," Williams said.

"Do they have a strategy in place, X amount of dollars raised, and then look to the water company for an ownership lease, or some kind of lease agreement," Williams said.

In the 1880s, Chinese laborers who had helped build the transcontinental railroad settled in an area of Rancho Cucamonga near the present-day intersection of San Bernardino Road and Archibald Avenue where they found agricultural work.

In addition to the monument, a historic preservation consultant is documenting the history of the China House. The work involves architectural descriptions, scaled plan drawings, photographs, and a compilation of the history of the property.


Reach Neil via email, call him at 909-483-9356, or find him on Twitter @RanchoNow.