Alexander Clark Real Estate

‘The Front Steps’: How The Richmond Became the ‘New Chinatown’

This week’s big summer blockbuster (there are still technically a couple weeks left in summer) is Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi & the Legend of the Ten Rings, a martial arts superhero expedition adapting the Shang-Chi comics of the ’70s, partially shot here in San Francisco.

Audiences might assume that a Chinese immigrant superhero in SF would live in Chinatown, but observers will note that according to the film, Shang-Chi is a Richmond resident ā€“ he lives on Euclid Avenue, right on the edge of Jordan Park.

Because of course he does; Chinatown may get the tourism, but as we all know, the Richmond has been SF’s “New Chinatown” for decades.

The San Francisco Travel Association notes that while Baltimore was the first US city to attract significant immigration from countries like China, the lure of the Gold Rush brought China-born fortune-seekers to SF as early as 1848. Originally, racist city policies barred them from living anywhere but the designated Chinatown.

By the 1970s, SF’s Asian enclaves had spilled over into the Richmond and Sunset. According to the 2019 exhibition Chinese In the Richmond,” the western neighborhoods became attractive because they offered more space and cheaper housing: Chinatown was (then as now) the most densely populated neighborhood in the city, but the Richmond offered big houses and lots of land on the cheap, at least in those days.

Others saw the move as an opportunity to break free of the historic restrictions placed on their families, according to the oral histories collected in the exhibition, talking of “bringing [the] Chinese out of Chinatown” and into the wider world of San Francisco elsewhere.

But sadly, part of the Richmond legacy is also institutional racism, as redlining policies meant the Inner Richmond was one of the only places banks would loan to Asian households looking to buy. On maps going back to the 1930s, you can see the neighborhood singled out as “lacking homogeneity”–oof.

Speaking of Shang-Chi, note that the 1-California bus line featured in the movie’s show-stopping fight scene is actually the legacy of lobbying efforts for transit options that made it easier to get from Chinatown to the Richmond ā€“ and now you know.

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