On November 27, 1968, 150 elderly Filipino and Chinese tenants from the Manilatown district of San Francisco began a nine-year-long, anti-eviction campaign against Financial District encroachment. Widespread student and community grass-roots support imprinted this event as a milestone in Asian American and housing advocacy history.
The campaign culminated in the deployment of over 400 riot police, mounted patrols, anti-sniper units and !re ladder trucks in a 3:00 AM eviction raid on August 4, 1977. A 3,000-person human barricade was brutally cleared away by authorities before tenants were physically removed from the premises.
After the eviction in 1977 and demolition in 1979, a newly established International Hotel Citizens Advisory Committee (IHCAC), appointed by Mayor Dianne Feinstein and chaired initially by Dr. Rolland Lowe and then Linda Wang, led persistent efforts to ensure that low-income housing would be built on the site.
The International Hotel (I-Hotel) was located in a once-thriving Filipino American enclave. Originally consisting of over ten square blocks and located near the edge of San Francisco Chinatown, Manilatown was considered home to many Filipino farmworkers, merchant marines and service workers. During the 1960s, Financial District encroachment steadily shoved the residential Manilatown community into “higher use” development.
FIRE, TRAGEDY, MOUNTING SUPPORT
I-Hotel owner Walter Shorenstein, President of Milton Meyer & Company, intended to demolish the building in order to build a multi-level parking lot. In protest, tenants, represented by the United Filipino Associa- tion (UFA), marched to Milton Meyer & Company o ces and succeeded in obtaining a lease agreement to be signed on March 16, 1969. However, in the early morning hours of March 16, a suspicious arson swept through the north wing of the top floor of the I-Hotel, killing three tenants; Pio Rosete, Marcario Salermo and Robert Knau . Milton Meyer & Company backed away from the lease agreement and used the fire as justification for the demolition of an “unsafe” building.
Mounting public opposition forced Shorenstein to sign a three-year lease, slated to end on June 30, 1972. In the meantime, the building went through extensive renovation at the hands of hundreds of student and community volunteers. Abandoned storefronts gave birth to community centers. Burnt-out hotel rooms were rebuilt, plastered and painted by donated labor.
Occupying I-Hotel storefronts, Asian Community Center, Asian Legal Services, Chinatown Cooperative, Chinatown-North Beach Youth Council, Chinese Progressive Association and Kearny Street Workshop became conduits for the political, social and cultural transformation of the San Francisco Chinatown and Manilatown communities. Everybody’s Bookstore, the first Asian American bookstore in the nation, was established in the I-Hotel. Key participants included student activists from the Third World Liberation Front strikes of San Francisco State College and UC Berkeley. These community centers and groups would eventually expand and nurture a constituent base of support for the I-Hotel struggle.
On October 31, 1973, Shorenstein sold the property to a Chinese-Thai liquor baron, Supasit Mahaguna, who held title to the property under the name Four Seas Investment Corporation. The property transfer had the effect of changing the target of the struggle from local big capital to foreign Asian capital. Negotiations with Mahaguna for lease extensions proved fruitless, and the California Supreme Court ultimately mandated San Francisco Sheriff Richard Hongisto to evict the tenants. Refusing to enforce the eviction order, Hongisto was jailed for five days in April 1977 for contempt of court. He eventually fulfilled the court order and evicted tenants out of the I-Hotel the following August. In this nine-year period from 1968 to 1977, community support was the key factor for the series of eviction postponements, numerous court stays, and intervention by local politicians. The participation of volunteers and the organization of the tenants created a new level of community solidarity and deepened public opposition to the eviction. Tenants formed and democratically elected the International Hotel Tenants Association (IHTA). It strived daily to meet the general welfare needs of the mostly elderly Filipino and Chinese residents.
The eviction on August 4, 1977 at 3:00 AM in the morning was a government action abhorred by many to be the most offensive in San Francisco history. A 3,000-member strong human shield resisted the intrusion of 400 riot police outside the building. Over 100 tenants and supporters barricaded themselves inside the building. This resistance captured widespread local, national and international support and imagination. The support work, prior to and after the eviction, involved mass mobilizations and rallies that made the I-Hotel struggle a cause célèbre. This movement fostered further activism by younger and older generations in the community, which began to challenge conservative methods of change. New organizations, such as the Chinatown Community Development Center and later, the Manilatown Heritage Foundation, emerged from the disaster of eviction to address the grassroots housing and social needs of the community.
Affordable housing on the site would not have occurred if not for the efforts of community members, who maintained constant pressure on San Francisco city government following the tumultuous eviction of tenants. In response to public outcry over the 1979 demolition of the I-Hotel, Mayor Feinstein established the International Hotel Block Development Citizens Advisory Committee (IHCAC) to make recommendations concerning the future of the site. In 1982, at the urging of the IHCAC, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a zoning ordinance that required housing on the I-Hotel location.
Between 1983 and 1993, the IHCAC, the City, and the Four Seas owners negotiated a development agreement that was later withdrawn by Four Seas. After this withdrawal, the IHCAC negotiated with other developers but without success. From 1984-2004, the IHCAC continued efforts to raise development funds and in 1993, agreed to a joint development project with St. Mary’s Chinese Schools and Catholic Center, with St. Mary‘s developing its school site. In 1993, Chinatown Community Development Center (Chinatown CDC) was selected to be the housing developer.
With public support, the IHCAC was able to forestall Four Seas’ commercial development plans and secure the site for housing. The final piece in securing the site was put in place in 1998 when Pan-Magna (successor corporation to Four Seas) finally sold the I-Hotel site to the Catholic Church, through the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Through the negotiation efforts of St. Mary’s, led by Father Daniel McCotter, Pan-Magna owner Supasit Mahaguna finally released ownership and control of the property. This created the basis for joint project use of the location for low- income senior housing and the building of the St. Mary’s Chinese Schools and Catholic Center. In 1994, the US Department of Hous- ing and Urban Development awarded a $8.3 million grant for affordable senior housing to co-sponsors Chinatown CDC and the Kearny Street Housing Corporation (incorporated body of the IHCAC). Subsequently, Chinatown CDC secured an increase in the HUD grant to $11.1 million and also initiated a capital campaign raising funds from private individuals, foundations and corporations. The results of this campaign, plus funding from the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco and the Mayor’s Office of Housing (a significant proportion of which had been reserved for I-Hotel housing by previous administrations through IHCAC efforts over the years), totaled $17 million in additional funding. In 1997, the Manilatown Heritage Foundation incorporated and became active in locating former I-Hotel tenants.
Due to the organizing efforts of tenants and community organizations, the new I-Hotel opened its doors on August 26, 2005, providing 104 units of low-income housing. The new I-Hotel exists today as a secure, reasonably priced and well-maintained building that serves the needs of low-income elderly tenants. The memory and legacy of the I-Hotel struggle have been carried on by the work of the Manilatown Center that serves the cultural needs of the tenants and the surrounding community. Similar to the social service programs in the original hotel, the new I-Hotel has arranged for the provision of on-site nutrition services by Self Help for the Elderly and health related programs. The construction of St. Mary’s Chinese Schools and Catholic Center is slated to be completed in 2011. After three decades, the I-Hotel site is returned to the community. After three decades, the new I-Hotel is rebuilding a sense of community. The resurrection of the I-Hotel is a testimonial to this community’s resilience and determination.
In 2006, the International Hotel Senior Housing, Inc. Board of Directors established the International Hotel History Committee with the charge of memorializing the history of the International Hotel and the community struggle to protect low-income housing. The History Committee worked from 2006 to 2010 to develop a timeline and this brochure. The committee’s work entailed the interviewing of key parties to capture this history from the struggle of tenants against eviction to the re-opening of the International Hotel.