SAN DIEGO — In 1912, members of the San Diego Women's Purity League picketed the conjoined--and in some respects connubial--Anita and Regal hotels. Last Saturday, some of their descendants were among the 200 supporters of the Gaslamp Quarter Foundation who donned black tie to celebrate the reopening of these one-time dens of iniquity.
The foundation staged "Return to Old Chinatown" to coincide with the planned opening of the new Chinese Regal Hotel, although delays have pushed the actual opening to sometime in July. The building occupies a site at 4th Avenue near J Street that was the heart of the small Chinatown that thrived in downtown San Diego in the decades nearest the turn of the century. This annex to the Horton Grand Hotel is a reconstruction of the Anita and Regal hotels, which developer Dan Pearson moved over from the 3rd Avenue side of the block. (These structures shared a facade and gained the nickname "Raid Hotel" in 1912, when San Diego police arrested 138 ladies of the evening and put all but the two who promised to reform on a train to Los Angeles.)
The only police presence Saturday, however, was one of the cheerful, unofficial, Gay '90s-uniformed Keystone Kops who stroll the streets of Gaslamp. Although the party had its raucous moments, especially during a particularly exciting mah-jongg match, this crowd largely minded its manners.
The foundation annually hosts a fund-raiser tied to one of the neighborhood's historical themes. The construction of the Chinese Regal pointed the way this year and prompted the committee to appoint Connie Hom, whose family founded and continues to operate the Woo Chee Chong Oriental markets, as honorary chairwoman. Hom responded by bringing a print of the 1986 documentary "Mysteries Beyond the Great Wall," which she produced for KPBS and which earned six Emmy nominations, for viewing as one of the multiple diversions offered by the event.
"Being here brings me back to my childhood," said Hom. "I used to attend Chinese school down here and then go work at Woo Chee Chong. It's all a part of San Diego, and I now have a great appreciation for what the Gaslamp Quarter Foundation does."
One of the things the foundation does is to stage pretty fair parties. Saturday, it decked Copley Alley with strings of red paper lanterns and banners bearing Chinese characters suggestive of good fortune, and then filled in the scene with a troupe of lion dancers whose duty it was to scare away evil spirits, and who in any case certainly banished the blues. Other diversions included martial arts and "ribbon dancing" demonstrations, a performance of Chinese chamber music, shamelessly uninhibited games of Chinese checkers and critical tastings of Chinese teas and beers. The chow ran to dim sum, assorted stir-fries and almond cookies.
None of the principals suggested that "Return to Old Chinatown" actually presaged any return of a real Chinatown-style district to the neighborhood, although several suggested that a hint of the old flavor may be revived.
"We're seeing the beginnings of what planners call a 'Chinese thematic district,' " said foundation chairman Bill Sauls. "This of course \o7 was\f7 the Chinese district, and, while you have to look to find the Chinese influences in the architecture, they're there. We're going to encourage more."
Developer Pearson said he expects other Chinese architectural or thematic influences on the stretch of lower 3rd Avenue.
"The land under the Chinese Regal was, in a way, Chinese soil for 100 years," he said, explaining that Ah Quin, one of the first Chinese migrants to San Diego and a partner in some of Alonzo Horton's projects, built his residence on the site.
Judith Leitner and Larry Husband co-chaired a committee that included Kay Carter, Terry Clements, Stephan Donche, Marlee Ehrenfeld, Ella La Brucherie, Louise Miesfeld, Drake Mosier, Kimberly Prendergast and Lyn Semeta.
You only had to notice the ants scurrying across the kitchen counters to know that architect Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian Automatic House, recently installed on its own lawn in the parking lot of San Diego Museum of Art, would fit instantly and naturally into the San Diego landscape.
The ants showed up early for the dinner dance and gala preview exhibition, given Friday for members of the museum's President's Circle, that anticipated the opening of "Frank Lloyd Wright: In the Realm of Ideas."
More than 200 guests also turned out for the event, including many invited by the Kohler and Whirlpool corporations, the sponsors of the national tour of the exhibition, as well as representatives of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and Scottsdale, Ariz.