Los Angeles reveals six finalists for memorial to victims of the 1871 Chinese massacre

In Honor

Los Angeles reveals six finalists for memorial to victims of the 1871 Chinese massacre

A rendering from James Leng, Jennifer Ly, and J. Roc Jih’s proposal for a memorial to the victims of the 1871 Chinese Massacre. (Figure x J. Jih/Courtesy City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs)

The City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) and El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument have announced six finalists in a competition to design a memorial that will honor the victims of a 19th century massacre wherein a mob of rioters killed 18 Chinese Angelenos.

“The new memorial seeks to simultaneously raise public awareness of the 1871 Chinese massacre—in which at least 18 residents of Los Angeles, or roughly ten percent of the city’s Chinese population at the time, were murdered – and to address contemporary concerns about race, intolerance, and violence,” DCA General Manager Daniel Tarica said in a press release. “It strives to tell the story of the little-known largest mass killing in Los Angeles history but also to convey a broader, more universal message.”

The memorial was first announced by former Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti in April 2021. The following year, the DCA released a Request for Ideas after extensive meetings with a steering committee that included over 70 representatives from the city’s business, arts, cultural, and civic sectors. A panel that includes Mark Lee of Johnston Marklee Architects, Suellen Cheng, the former executive director of the Chinese American Museum, and Annie Chu of Chu-Gooding Architects, among others, chose six submissions out of 176 for a $15,000 stipend to further develop their ideas and present them to the public.

Take a look at the finalists’ proposals below. Descriptions in block quotes are taken directly from the proposals:

(Figure x J. Jih/Courtesy City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs)

Figure x J. Jih
James Leng and Jennifer Ly (architecture collective) and J. Roc Jih, San Francisco

“Penjing is a Chinese art form and ancestor to Bonsai in which the garden becomes a microcosm that focuses the visual and mental gaze towards introspection. Often seen as living sculpture or physical poetry, it embodies a cultural attitude towards sculpture as something existing between object and landscape, and is regarded as an extension of surrounding built and natural environments. With the sites of the massacre scattered amongst sidewalks and parking lots, Penjing is able to serve as both a compact sculptural object and evocative space. Scaling to fill each site and protected by a quiet vessel, each Penjing offers ritualized care to unassuming places that often lack it, with its microcosmic interior serving as a mirror of the communities who design and sustain it. Penjing are further linked to Asian Angeleno communities through the flower industry as a result of past racist policies. They not only survive but thrive in residual spaces, in keeping with stories of resilience many Chinese immigrants trace in the building of their communities.

The outer vessel of our proposal is a honed cylindrical form shaped from locally sourced limestone, emerging from a hewn base. Three openings carve away its thick exterior to reveal an inner void sculpted with 18 polished flutes, each memorializing a victim of the massacre, collectively centered upon a hidden garden. The memorial becomes a vessel within a vessel; the cleft and honed exterior takes on a scholar-stone ethos of embracing weathering and wear, while the inner polished form references the subtle lobes of a Chinese celadon bowl. In this nested vessel, the memorial becomes a space of absence, where loss nurtures a garden growing in the face of adversity. This balance between ruggedness and refinement, protectiveness and vulnerability, suggests a spirit of resilience that we see as both poetic and pragmatic. One’s experience of the memorial’s layered frames builds upon Chinese spatial traditions of implied thresholds and gates, and its excavation and discovery become a visual and performative analogue to the palimpsest of Los Angeles’ own complex histories.

We see remembrance as a constant and ongoing act rather than something sacred and unchanging. As such, in resistance to rigid interpretations of history and memorialization, we imagine the garden within the memorial to be a space and scene to be grown and renewed by its surrounding community. By setting a living landscape as the memorial itself, the act of remembering also becomes one of care.”

(Sze Tsung Nicolás Leong and Judy Chui-Hua Chung/Courtesy City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs)

Sze Tsung Nicolás Leong and Judy Chui-Hua Chung
Artist/writer collaboration, Los Angeles

Sze Tsung Nicolás Leong and Judy Chui-Hua Chung spatialized a timeline of events on the day of the massacre with a “petrified grove”of 18 stylized trees (one for each victim) and roots that serve as benches. The memorial design references banyan trees that grew at village entrances in Sze Yup, Kwangtung (Guangdong Province), the southeast China region of origin for most early Asian immigrants to the West Coast.

(Anna Sew Hoy and Zhu Jia and Formation Association/Courtesy City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs)

Anna Sew Hoy and Zhu Jia and Formation Association
Artists/architect collaboration, Los Angeles

“The Memorial Colonnade is comprised of vertical Stelae roughly framing the site of Calle de los Negros and portions of historic Chinatown. At eye level, the Memorial Stelae demonstrate a chronology of the events regarding the night of the 1871 Chinese Massacre. A Flying Chord encircles the sky above with a dual role: Its staggering forms articulate the turbulence overtaking the Chinese community on a historic ‘night of terrors’, while it’s perimeter frames redemptive new sites of commemoration, festivals, and activism, energizing the Chinese American Museum as an urban proscenium—a backdrop for future Angelenos inhabiting a next Los Angeles.

The Memorial Colonnade frames an extended site for individual reflection and large gatherings for future generations of Angelenos.”

(Frederick Fisher and Partners + Candice Lin/Courtesy City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs)

David Ross, Takashige Ikawa, and Iustina Nicolae (Frederick Fisher and Partners) + Candice Lin (artist)
Architect/Artist Collaboration, Los Angeles

“Our proposal for the 1871 Los Angeles Chinese Massacre Memorial takes the form of a monolith of black stone, carved in bas relief by the acclaimed Los Angeles artist Candice Lin. Influenced by her research into Chinese symbols, cartography, and the history of 19th and 20th century Chinese immigration, Lin will create an image of the spirit world, a speculative map that will guide the wandering spirits of those killed in the Massacre. Her imagery will draw upon Taoist paintings of the underworld, drawings from auspicious gravesites, and symbols of historical significance to the Chinese community of 19th century Los Angeles. The textured bas relief will invite visitors to look, touch, and make ink rubbings from these carved images. The stone will sit facing the Chinese American Museum at Primary Site 1. Its curved form creates a sense of protection, shielding visitors from traffic, noise, and other elements on the largely exposed site. Surrounding the stone will be 18 small fragments in reflective brass, spilling out towards El Pueblo de Los Angeles plaza. Were you to piece each individual fragment together, the resulting shape would mirror the contours of the main stone. In this way, the brass shards represent the 18 lives lost and the fragmenting effect the massacre had on the Chinese community. On October 24th, the anniversary of the historic and tragic event, the sun’s rays are predicted to reflect light off of the polished bronze fragments, bouncing this light onto the center of the memorial stone and illuminating the bas-relief image guiding lost spirits to a place of rest. At other times of the year, these reflections will fall on nearby buildings and surroundings. On the back side of the memorial, facing the street, information about the historic 1871 massacre event will be detailed in incised text.”

(Sonam Lhamo, Jiawei Yao, Yiying/Courtesy City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs)

Sonam Lhamo, Jiawei Yao, Yiying
Architectural team, Seattle

The Bridge Sanctuary proposes a spacious shelter with a configurable roof where the public can gather.

(Fung + Blatt Architects/Courtesy City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs)

Fung + Blatt Architects
Architects, Los Angeles

“Our proposal builds upon the gestural experiences and spatial metaphors in the raising and lowering of one’s head and the feelings that they elicit. Each time we hold our heads up with pride, we are also afforded the reciprocal gesture of lowering our heads in humble reflection of past wrongs.

A split boulder rises from a sea of black ingot-shaped paver bricks. An infinity mirror box is encased in the boulder. Its illuminated walls of optically infinite depth are lined with pinewood tablets. The top rows of tablets are inscribed with the identities of the massacre victims, while others are left blank; they recall ancestral memorial tablets in village temples. The pinewood ‘shaft’ echoes the depth of Chinese American roots on this land, and the magnitude of human loss to anti-Asian violence through time. The sea of coal-black ingots alludes to the multitude of immigrant stories untold and to the “streets paved with gold” myth that continues to beckon many.”

After the presentation of these six proposals in an online meeting next month, a final review by an evaluation panel will take place.