Association Buildings-The Archaeology of Mutual Assistance

The enclaves established by Chinese immigrants within the Anglo-American cities of the United States reflected both the exclusionary pressures they faced and the degree of gender homogeneity of the community. The itinerant nature of employment options available to these individuals and the fact that most of them originally intended to stay in this country only temporarily precluded the establishment of long-term residential households.  A community of transient occupancy developed. The structures occupied in these Chinatowns were rented to Chinese merchants, generally by white property owners, then appropriated and reconfigured to meet the merchandizing and housing needs of this population. For the most part the ground floors of these buildings were occupied by business spaces and the upper levels were dedicated to housing the densely packed resident population.

A network district associations, organized according to its member’s area of origin within China, formed a locus for social, economic and essentially governmental functions, and as such, were an integral part of the community structure. Many of the buildings the associations occupied provided room and board for members in communally organized tenements. These were generally located on the middle floors of buildings while offices and meeting spaces of the associations were situated on the top floor or portions of it. The prominence of these organizations can still be seen displayed in the exterior adornments of many of the multi story structures found within these historic district (Yip 1995). A highly decorative balcony attached to the façade of the buildings to announce the presence of an association within.

Hip Wah Hing -maybe_compressed          Gee How Oak Tin Family Assoc_compressed            Bing Kung Assoc._compressed

Hip Wah Hing Building        Gee How Oak Tin Family Association       Bing Kung Building                                         Photos of Association Style Buildings in Seattle, WA by R. Crowley

It is important to keep in mind the fact that these communities, known as “Chinatowns”, were primarily “bachelor” males sharing largely communal facilities. Because of this, the residence networks that evolve were very different from the household norms of the greater Anglo-American culture. This unique settlement pattern must be considered for archaeologists to fully comprehend the material remains of these neighborhoods (Voss and Allen 2008). These analyses represent a community archaeology more than a household archaeology.

Chin_Gee_Hee with LOT_compressed                            Canton Building_ca 1907_compressed

Chin Gee Hee Building                   Site is to the left of this now demolished building

      photo by R. Crowley                                  photo ca 1907(UW Special Collection)

I have identified a potential site locally during the course of my investigation into this issue. Adjacent to what is perhaps the oldest remaining association style structure in Seattle, the Chin Gee Hee Building at 2nd Avenue South and South Washington Street, there is a parking lot that has sealed three lots of the city’s earliest Chinatown. These lots are at the center of one of the first Chinese owned business centers in the city. Construction there dates to the later part of the nineteenth century.

Voss, Barbara L. and Rebecca Allen, 2008

Between the Household and the World System: Social Collectivity and Community Agency in Overseas Chinese Archaeology. Theme issue, “The Archaeology of Chinese Immigrant and Chinese American Communities,” Historical Archaeology 42(3):37-52.

Yip, Christopher L., 1995

Association, Residence, and Shop: An Appropriation of Commercial Blocks in North   American Chinatowns. Theme issue, “Gender, Class, and Shelter,” Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture 5. Elizabeth Collins Cromley and Carter L. Hudgins ed. Pp109- 117. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press.

2 thoughts on “Association Buildings-The Archaeology of Mutual Assistance

  1. I really enjoyed learning about this specialized sort of architecture, and how it came about in relation to legislation aimed at preventing the establishment of Chinese families. That the absence of women could play such a significant role in the formation of these home sites is incredible. I really enjoyed your paper Roger, and I’ll definitely keep my eyes peeled for the trademark architecture of association buildings. What a great topic!

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