The landmark, House of China (HOC), is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year with a series of events. The HOC in Balboa Park, San Diego, has gloriously promoted, presented and preserved Chinese culture and friendship. In addition, the HOC has fought to protected and advance the interest of local Chinese.
During the depression era in the United States, civic visionaries dreamed of an international exposition to boost the local economy and to instill civic pride in San Diego. As aspect of the organizer’s plan was to attract foreign exhibitors to the 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition.
The Exposition committee, headed by Frank Drugan, approached Sun Mow Hom(this author’s maternal grandfather) to get the local Chinese-American community to participate in the Exposition. Sun Mow was the English Secretary of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA). He then enlisted the help of President See Jin Tom and Chinese Secretary Soon Kwai Tom to work within the community.
After months of negotiations and planning, the CCBA agreed to open the Hall of China, as it was called then, in Balboa Park. May 26, 1935, was the date chosen to go down in history as the auspicious opening day.
George Joe in 1934 did the public relations work for the HOC. He was instrumental in obtaining for the Hall, Chinese furnishing from the Republic of China, the Quan Mane Art Store in San Diego and San Francisco businesses. The exterior of the building matched the ‘hacienda’ style of the other international cottages.
Ernest Hom was elected President of the Hall because he had won a national debating contest while a student at San Diego State College. A Chinese orchestra played patriotic tunes. Beautiful Lucille Hom was chosen the first queen of the Hall of China. Pearl Hom and Gladys Hom were the first official hostesses. Honorable Vice Consul Yi Seng Kiang from Los Angeles and Consul General C.C. Huang of San Francisco on behalf of Ambassador Alfred Sze of the Republic of China accepted the key to the Hall. An all-girl marching unit of 50 from San Francisco came to participate in the program. The culmination of the program was the lighting of 10,000 firecrackers of the United States and Republic of China flags.
China Day, October 13, 1935
The China Day program of October 13, 1935, at the California Pacific International Exposition is chronicled one the biggest days in the history of the San Diego Chinese community. The San Diego Union reported 15,000 witnessed the almost continuous program beginning at 2:30 PM and ending late at night.
Katherine Fun Cheung, only Chinese aviatrix in the United States, piloted her own plane from Los Angeles. Hollywood starlet, Barbara Jean Wong performed songs and dancers. C.C. Huang, Consul General from San Francisco as the chief speaker. Mr. Huang emphasized the friendship between the great republics.
In the evening, a parade formed at the Third Avenue CCBA building. It consisted of girls in Chinese dress, drum corps, floats, “Chinese Pioneers in California”, “Chinese Angels Scattering Flowers”, official cars, Los Angeles band, San Francisco orchestra and lion dance. They proceeded up Sixth Avenue to applause and wonderment. Entering the Exposition, they marched passed the Hall and entered the Organ Pavilion. A never matched since fireworks display was then presented. Displays included: “Wuchang, Birthplace of the Chinese Revolution”, “A Carp Transformed into a Golden Dragon”, and “Nine Lotus Lanterns”.
The Intervening Decades
The Chinese community and other international cottages so enjoyed the Exposition, that they all decided to continue operations and joined to cooperate together as the House of Pacific Relations (HPR) following the Exposition’s close. The City of San Diego became of the regulatory body asking the cottages to be open for cultural and educational open house.
Warm smiles and traditional hospitality have greeted tens of thousands of local, national and international visitors to the House. Wonderful compliments have been paid hosts and hostesses who offer information, refreshments and provide souvenir Chinese names in calligraphy.
Volunteer youth and ladies from the Chinese Congregational Church and CCBA often rotated as hosts. With Chinese families in cramped quarters, the youth sought out the Hall as their own domain for study and socials. A memorable event recalled by Dorothy Hom was learning to jitterbug from Tom Hom in the Hall. In the Hall, they also announced their love for one another with their wedding engagement announcement.
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On the eve of World World II, the HPR continued to hold out the hope of international cooperation and peace, just as its member nation cottages were able to achieve. However, with the United States entry into World War II, all Americans joined the war effort. As a consequence, all the cottages relinquished their cottages to the U.S. Navy in 1942. The Navy made the cottages off limits to the public and naval officers were billeted with the cottages. It was not until August 1, 1948, that the Hall of China and other House of Pacific Relations members gained their cottages.
Today Yan Gu serves as the regular staffer for Sunday open house. However, the volunteer spirit is alive with young and old, American and foreign born, all assisting the House, such as students from Westview High’s Interact Club and youth from American Chinese Cultural and Education Foundation.
The Post World War II Era and the Cold War Period
With the return of peace at the end of World War II, people wanted to get back to their lives. New energy was put into the Hall. However, war-weary China continued to have fighting between the Nationalist Kuomintang government and the communist.
Peter Lee emerged as a capable leader of the Hall. As the Chinese Congregational Mission pastor in the late 1940’s, he knew the Chinese community well and as a Shanghai native, he was versed in Chinese culture. His leadership took him to the Secretary position of the HPR in 1955 and to the Presidency in 1956 and 1957.
After the Kuomintang government in 1949 moved to Taiwan, the national loyalty of the overseas Chinese went with the Kuomingtang. In the mid-1950s, Edwin Hom and his family took a personal interest in assisting visiting Nationalist naval personnel On several occasions, donated goods collected from the community were given naval personnel to take to Taiwan. Whenever visitors from Taiwan or China, governmental, scholastic, cultural or individual come, the HOC extends hospitality.
Since the HOC represents Chinese culture and friendship, the annual lawn program is named Moon Festival to honor culture and tradition rather than have lawn programs listed as a national day.
In 1958, Andrew Hom, CCBA President began the Lucky Lion Dance Troupe. Young girls from the cottage were enlisted to be lantern princesses that accompanied the lucky lion dancers in parades and other performances that give the HOC national coverage.
In 1969, the HPR was incorporated. This action caused the Hall to be independent of CCBA. At this same time, the Hall was renamed, House of China. Beginning in 1970, the late Dr. Shu Yan Chan, an Engineering professor at San Diego State College, became president. For the ensuing years, the cottage was actively run by the professors from SDSU and the membership grew with the addition of Taiwanese immigrants to the Cantonese community.
As the HPR was modeled after the United Nations in New York, the issue of which government HOC represent came up. The prevailing opinion and policy of the House was that the cottage purpose was to preserve and promote culture and friendship. NansonHwa, HOC Vice President in 1975 recalls reporters’ attempts to categorize the HOC into a political camp, for which they were unsuccessful.
The HOC has and will continue to have friendly relations with all Chinese. Therefore a classic designed bilingual HOC flag is flown at the building.
In 1975, Virginia Hom Fung came to serve as President during this turbulent of civil and human rights and Vietnam War.
Arts and Culture
In December 1957, the Hall of China received 110 samples of Chinese native products from China. They included hand made products of wood and bamboo, linens and sil yard goods. A handwoven silk portrait of Madam Chiang Kai-sek and a large ideograph “Long Life” were among the acquisitions.
On October 31, 1959, Margaret Hom was crowned the first queen of the HPR. On November 5, 1962, Patsy Wong among others hosted the visiting FooHsing Children’s Theater at the old Russ Auditorium.
The 1974 lawn program of the HOC was narrated by Christine Sue Jow, as Kande Benson performed the lotus dance. HOC Queen Sylvia Hom performed magic tricks. Janny Chu taught our young girl members traditional dances. These girls also performed at the lawn program. Dance members were Cindy Hom, Debbie Hom, Pam Hom, Jennifer Hom, Angela Jair Moy, Sonya Lem, Sydney Lem, and Kande Benson. They performed at Park functions, Grossmont Shopping Center, Chicano Park, schools, etc., as our ambassadress of goodwill.
In the modern era, the wealth of Chinese culture and talent came to impress. The talents of the Chinese Folk Dance Ensemble, Xian Jiang, Moonlight and Silk Road Dancers made appearances at lawn programs and New Year events sponsored by the HOC.
Since the inception of the Chinese New Year Street Fair from 3rd and Island, to the Community Concourse, to the Del Mar Fairgrounds and then back to 3rd and Island, the HOC has presented Chinese culture and food to tens of thousands. The area bounded by 3rd Avenue and Island and J Streets, now known as the Asian Thematic District, had early testimony advocating the area’s preservation by HOC President David Seid.
The House of China is known for its benevolence. At the 1991 Chinese New Year dinner at the Jasmine Restaurant, monies were collected for Ms. Nelson Zhao who had just become widowed. The double tragedy of the 1996 killing of San Diego State University Professor Preston Lowery followed two years later with the auto death of his daughter, saw the HOC raising funds at its Chinese New Year party at Imperial Mandarin. Funds were given to Ying Lowery for a memorial at her daughter’s school.
Articles on the dire circumstances of a family battling cancer were spearheaded by the HOC in Chinese and English press in San Diego and Southern California in 2007. Several thousand dollars were raised.
When the 5-11-08 Sichuan earthquake struck China, David Seid was interviewed by Channel 8 and gave out information on where relief donations could be sent. Collections were made and HOC of China funds were sent.
At Chinese New Year time, the HOC underwrote the expense of the Asian for Miracle Marrow Match booth costs for one day. This was no surprise as a decade before the HOC publicized the need of Ting ‘Tony’ Kuo in searching for a marrow match. Similarly, the HOC provided humanitarian relief to Taiwan Typhoon victims in 2009.
House of China Essay Contest
As a tribute to Virginia Hom Fung, long time passionate HOC President, the Chinese Language School Essay contest was established in her memory in 1995, one year after her passing. The first chair of the competition was Rev. Karl Fung. For the next 14 consecutive years, Dr. Nancy Lo has led the effort.
The essay contest aims to encourage students in their Chinese studies and to recognize parents, teachers and principals at Chinese Academy, Chinese School of San Diego, North County School, Sun Yet Sen, Hua Xia, and Hua Chang schools. In the 15 years of the competition, nearly 1,000 entries have been received. Cash prizes and award ceremonies with expenditures in the tens of thousands of dollars have created a unique niche for the House of China.
Committee members include Dr. Nancy Lo, Jack Meng, Grace Seid, Rosa Chi, YeQingChen …
The House of China has worked cooperatively with both mainstream organizations and Chinese community organizations. Among the partnerships has been the San Diego Zoological Society with the Golden Monkey and Giant Panda exhibitions. Hosting of Yantai Sister City Children’s Palace guest was another hospitality deed. The Museum of Man received support in 2XXX with the Chinese Wood Block Exhibition.
Close partnering with the CCBA, Chinese School of San Diego, Chinese Service Center, U.S. China People’s Friendship Association has resulted in the much anticipated and sell out dinner show with maximum attendance capped at 650 guests.
The Port of San Diego 2008 Big Bay Balloon Chinese contingent of baton twirler, yaogu marching drummers, ethnic folk dancers, a combined Lucky Lucky Lion and Legendary Lion Dance troupe, and a giant helium balloon thrilled 100,000 spectators. The Chinese entry was capability coordinated by Diana MarjipChuh. Partnering with the HOC was CCBA, Hua Xia School, San Diego Chinese Women’s Association and American Chinese Cultural and Education Foundation.
Barnard Mandarin Magnet Elementary School received a critical boost by the HOC. The HOC was the first Chinese group to be a Partner in Education. The HOC introduced and endorsed the school to the Chinese press and other community organizations. The HOC has channeled thousands of dollars in financial support and helped to align additional resources.