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Site of the Original Chinatown


Reno's former Chinatown was burned to the ground twice. In 1878 a white laborers' group called the Workingman's Club was formed in response to the awarding of a major construction contract in Reno to a Chinese company. The Club members took out their anger at the Chinese by setting fire to Chinatown, leveling most of the dwellings and businesses there.


There is no record of any deaths or injuries due to the blazes, but the Workingman's Club, together with the Reno Anti-Coolie Society, demanded that all Chinese leave the town immediately. Since their homes had been destroyed and many feared for their lives, the Chinese residents moved across the river to an area outside of the city limits.


By 1908 a sizeable Chinese community had rebuilt on the banks of the Truckee River, and the City expanded to incorporate it. City officials declared that the conditions in Chinatown were unsanitary and a threat to the health of the white residents. Rather than assist the Chinese in cleaning up the area, officials decided to burn it down.


A contemporary newspaper reported, "The decision to raze this section of the city was kept secret, apparently for fear that the Chinese residents might work up a legal obstruction or organize an armed resistance. Given no warning...about 150 Chinatown residents were caught by surprise and thrown out with what personal belongings they could carry into the thick snow lining the river and city avenues."


Once again there were no reports of deaths or injuries, but again the Chinese residents lost their homes and many of their possessions. Most were forced to leave town. Many of those displaced wondered if white landowners simply had better uses in mind for the land, which had become valuable commercial property due to its riverfront location.

Sources: Chung, Lai, Summerhil, local newspapers

About this site: The area where Chinatown once stood was mostly a vacant lot in 2009 when I took this picture. The location of the former Chinese community was found on an 1896 Sanborn Fire Map at the Nevada Historical Society.

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