Finalists chosen for memorial to L.A.’s 1871 Chinese Massacre

In 2021, the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office initiated a process to erect a monument to commemorate the 1871 Chinese Massacre, a brutal mob attack that killed 18 Chinese men at a time when LA’s population was barely 5,700 fraud. This selection process has now reached the finalist phase.

Six designs were selected by a nine-person judging panel made up of artists, architects, curators and other cultural professionals, the Los Angeles Department of Culture and the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument announced last week. The proposals take different approaches to mark the horrifying event that unfolded downtown after being unleashed near Plaza de Los Angeles, a significant Chinese enclave at the time.

A contribution by artist Sze Tsung Nicolás Leong and architect Judy Chui-Hua Chung is inspired by the spiritual and protective properties of banyan trees in Guangdong, the province from which many early Chinese immigrants came. Her proposal envisions installations consisting of sculptural objects resembling petrified trees in the various locations where the massacre took place.

A proposal by LA-based firm Fung + Blatt Architects also opts for multiple sites marking the sites of lynchings — near the plaza and south of the 101 Freeway. Their memorials consist of rock-like structures housing infinity mirrors viewed from above considered to convey the illusion of bottomlessness.

Sonam Lhamo, Jiawei Yao, Yiying, a Seattle team, concentrated their proposal on a single location in front of the Chinese American Museum on Los Angeles Street. It was around this spot – in an alleyway that has since been obliterated by an on-ramp to the 101 Freeway – that the violence began. The team visually united the opposite sides of the street with red brick paving that acts as a visual bridge. The paved zone is connected to a red brick memorial sanctuary on one side of the street.

A rendering shows the silhouette of a person standing in front of a large-scale shape of a Chinese scholar's rock on a sidewalk

Frederick Fisher and Partners and artist Candice Lin submitted a proposal inspired by scholar rock, as seen in this rendering.

(Frederick Fisher and Associates and Candice Lin)

The concept of the LA architects Frederick Fisher and Partners and the artist Candice Lin also adheres to the museum location. Her proposed installation is a large-scale version of a traditional scholar’s rock – formations placed in Chinese gardens or on wooden pedestals and used as objects of contemplation. Her idea focuses on a large black stone monolith with carved images; 18 splinters of brass embedded in the sidewalk would mark the 18 lives lost.

A proposal by artists Anna Sew Hoy and Zhu Jia, in collaboration with LA-based architectural firm Formation Association, also unifies the site in front of the Chinese-American Museum — but achieves this through a series of vertical columns linked at the top by an undulating band of metal. Each column marks an event in the chronology of the massacre; secondary markers also serve to indicate other important downtown massacre locations.

Two architectural firms – San Francisco-based Figure and Boston-based J. Jih – have teamed up for a design that also draws on a traditional Chinese aesthetic practice: penjing, the art of creating miniaturized trees. The main monument, a limestone cylinder, would contain a small tree and the names of the dead. Smaller markers would be placed at other memorials.

Two vertical renderings side by side show a miniaturized tree contained within a cylindrical limestone structure

A rendering shows a memorial design featuring a miniaturized tree proposed by the architectural firms Figure and J. Jih.

(Illustration x J.Jih)

For much of Los Angeles’ history, the story of the massacre was absent from the landscape of the city’s monuments and memorials. Finally, in 2001, the Chinese-American Museum installed a plaque on the sidewalk commemorating the massacre. But in recent years there has been a push for greater recognition of one of LA’s most violent episodes, which was part of a wave of anti-Chinese violence and legislation in the 19th century.

Over the next month, the design teams will officially present their proposals to the public via Zoom. A date and time for this event has not yet been set, but future updates — along with illustrated presentation decks for all six design concepts — can be found on the department’s website at Finalists chosen for memorial to L.A.’s 1871 Chinese Massacre

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