China Beach, San Francisco

China Beach, San Francisco

by | Aug 23, 2021

China Beach is a small sandy cove on the South Bay of the Golden Gate tucked between Lands End and Baker Beach, once used as a campsite by Chinese fishermen, about 7 miles (11 km) north of Daly City and 5 miles (8 km) west of downtown San Francisco, California. The cove is backed by an eroding bluff of unconsolidated sand and sandstone, and flanked by steep erosion-resistant rock cliffs. The beach faces north with spectacular views of the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate. The State of California bought the beach in 1933 and officially named it James D. Phelan Memorial Beach State Park, after San Francisco’s 25th mayor. In 1974, following the establishment of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the state turned the beach over to the National Park Service which recommended changing the name back to China Beach. In 1982, Chinese Americans erected a large monument here that commemorates the Chinese fishermen who worked in and around San Francisco Bay since before the 1849 California Gold Rush.

China Beach was part of an area once inhabited by the Yelamu people who were a local tribe of Ohlone people from the San Francisco Bay Area in Northern California. According to anthropologists, the Ohlone people arrived in the bay area 4,000-6,000 years ago. They lived on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula before the arrival of Spanish missionaries in 1769. Some of the Yelamu people were converted to Christianity and absorbed into the Mission San Francisco de Asís that was founded by the Spaniards in 1776. Chinese immigrants began arriving in California in 1849 in pursuit of riches in the gold rush. They quickly became targets of discrimination and resentment because of their willingness to work for low wages and their adherence to traditional dress. Chinese immigrants faced severe discriminatory laws that began as early as 1850 with the passing of the Foreign Miners’ License Act which imposed a tax on all foreign-born miners. This forced many Chinese out of the Sierra goldfields and some returned to San Francisco Bay and became fishermen. Their main catch was shrimp but they also took sturgeon, smelt, herring, abalone, and crab. By 1875, there were 25 Chinese shrimp camps along the shores of San Francisco Bay and several camps outside the Golden Gate including China Beach. Threatened by their success, discriminatory regulations were passed during the following century, including a ban on wearing the traditional queue (braided ponytail), prohibiting businesses from hiring Chinese workers, not allowing Chinese to be naturalized, prohibiting aliens from fishing, and forbidding the immigration of Chinese into the United States. Anti-Chinese clubs were established and political candidates promoted anti-Asian platforms. One of these was San Francisco Mayor James D. Phelan. Ironically, what is now China Beach was called “Phelan Beach” when in 1933, it was purchased by the State with the help of a $50,000 gift from the former mayor. Today the National Park Service has restored the name China Beach as an acknowledgment of the turbulent history of Chinese immigrants in the San Francisco Bay.

China Beach is in the Sea Cliff neighborhood of San Francisco, one of eight master-planned residence parks built after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Sea Cliff was developed by Mark Roy Daniels, an architect known for creating plans that incorporated existing natural features to preserve a sense of local character. The San Francisco Residence Parks are located in the western neighborhoods of San Francisco. The first to be built was Presidio Terrace in 1905. This was followed by Saint Francis Wood, Sea Cliff, Lincoln Manor, West Clay Park, Forest Hill, Balboa Terrace, Ingleside Terraces, and Jordan Park. The master-planned residence parks were landscaped to replicate the feeling of suburban living in close proximity to downtown San Francisco. The residence parks all had significant restrictions, including prohibitions on commercial activity, yard size, minimum construction costs, and, initially, racial covenants. They were promoted as an alternative to new housing developments in the East Bay and South Bay Peninsula. Sales increased significantly in the 1920s, and by the 1930s most tracts in San Francisco residence parks were already constructed. Read more here and here. Explore more of China Beach and Sea Cliff here:

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