Thursday, December 20, 2007



International Hotel Committee

“Chinatown and Manilatown occupy seventy square blocks in North San Francisco. To the north are the gaudy nightclubs of North Beach, to the south and east stand the buildings of San Francisco's financial district, and to the west are the plush hotels of Nob Hill. The crowded, shabby streets of Chinatown and Manilatown stand in sharp contrast to the affluent surroundings. The Chinatown-Manilatown area has the highest population density of elderly persons in the nation. The overcrowding and poverty result in the highest tuberculosis and suicide rate in the nation. Every year 6000 newly arrived immigrants take up residence in the Chinatown ghetto adding to the problems.


In December 1968 residents of the International Hotel, one of the few low-income housing facilities in the area, were told to vacate the hotel immediately so that a parking lot could be built on the site. Protests and demonstrations were mounted in the community in an effort to save the hotel. Finally the owner of the hotel, Milton Meyer, Inc., agreed to lease the hotel to the United Filipino Association (UFA). The lease, however was never signed. The night before the signing of the lease was to take place, a mysterious fire broke out in the hotel. Three tenants were killed in the blaze that completely destroyed the north wing of the building. Lease negotiations were broken off. Evidence pointed to arson as the cause. However both Milton Meyer Inc. and city officials claimed the fire was an accident.

Immediately afte r the fire, the city moved to condemn the building. They offered to tear the building down for Milton Meyer Inc. at no cost. Hotel tenants and the United Filipino Association decided to fight the condemnation. Picket lines appeared in front of city hall and the offices of Milton Meyer, Inc.. UFA lawyers a suit against Milton Meyer, Inc., charging that the company was negligent in its operation of the hotel.


Meanwhile, hotel residents were harassed and intimidated. Kitchen facilities were locked up. Tenants often found themselves without electricity, sanitary facilities were not maintained. The city relocation agency began to displace tenants out of the hotel. Mr. Wing Lew, a resident of the hotel for twenty years, \was forcibly moved to another hotel three blocks away .He struggled back despite the fact that he could barely walk. Unfortunately strained from the constant harassment, some tenants sought other housing.

The picketing and the campaign to mount public opinion against Milton Meyer, Inc. began to have its effect. In the face of declining business and mounting public support for the UFA campaign to save the hotel, Milton Meyer, Inc. agreed in July, 1969 to lease the hotel to UFA for two years, with a third year optional. However the signing of the lease was not a total victory for the UFA. Under the new lease the United Filipino Association agreed to pay rent of $40,000 per year. In addition the UFA would pay property taxes on the building which amount to around $25,000 per year.

The UFA found itself in possession of a dilapidated, unsanitary, unsafe building. In the course of time, tenants of the hotel and Asian students began to rebuild. The volunteers came from as far away as Los Angeles and New York to make the hotel a decent, low-cost dwelling. The first step was to repair the fire ravaged North wing at a cost of $80,000. The cost would have been considerably higher if much of the work had not been done by student and community volunteers. Donations of furniture, paint, and building materials together with an abundance of manpower brought about the change. What was once a run-down hotel is now a real home for the elderly Filipino and Chinese residents. Cracks and holes were patched, walls were repainted, and old furniture was repaired or replaced. Often on Saturdays, the hotel was jammed with volunteer workers. As rooms were renovated, people moved into the storefronts on the ground floor. Most of the spaces were sub-leased to service oriented programs. They sought to serve the needs of the community. The Asian Community Center provides a supplemental food program to expectant mothers with small children. In addition, they have a free film every weekend for the elderly in the community. Also housed in the building is the Chinatown Youth Counci1, an organization that attempts to serve the needs of street kids.

The services offered at the International Hotel and the entire block have achieved recognition in the community to help overcome the tremendous problems which plague it.

Recreation programs were created in the hotel. Excursions outside the community, monthly dinners, weekly brunches, and a few other successful programs were Instituted by the workers to reach out to the tenants. The tenants themselves have taken the responsibility of running many of the programs.


The generation gap between young workers and the elderly has been bridged through their interaction at these recreation events. Also, tenant participation in the rebuilding of the hotel has given strength and spirit to the whole hotel community. All in all, the underlying bond between the tenant and the worker is their common goal: to build a new way of life and a new home.

The strength behind the hotel is the people who are served. They come not only from the Chinatown-Manilatown community, but from as far away as New York and Hong Kong. In the coming struggles they along with the tenants of the International Hotel will deal decisively with the owner. Then, hopefully, he will understand that human rights are more important than property rights.”

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