TimesOC: Santa Ana apologizes for 1906 Chinatown fire

Hello and welcome to TimesOC Bulletin.

Today is Friday, May 6. I’m Ben Brazil, bringing you the latest roundup of Orange County news and events.

More than a century ago, city officials in Santa Ana chose to burn down the city’s Chinatown after a man was diagnosed with leprosy.

My colleague Gabriel San Román wrote this week about the racist incident and how the city hopes to atone for past sins.

In 1906, the city council held an emergency meeting after Wong Woh Ye was quarantined with leprosy, though it is now disputed whether he actually had the disease. Following recommendations from the city’s board of health, the council unanimously decided to have the fire marshal set fire to Chinatown.

San Román noted that the incident occurred amid a long-running effort against the city’s Chinese residents following the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The city was also looking to build a new hotel town on the site. Disturbingly, the Los Angeles Times called the Chinatown fire “as picturesque an event as imaginable”.

The original Santa Ana City Hall on Main Street in Santa Ana.

(Don Leach / Daily Driver)

Now, the current progressive Santa Ana City Council is hoping to make amends. The council this week discussed preparing a formal apology and creating a memorial. Councilman Johnathan Ryan Hernandez, Planning Commissioner Alan Woo, Deputy City Manager Steven Mendoza and Councilwoman Thai Viet Phan worked on the apology project, San Román wrote.

“We just want to do what’s right and acknowledge past wrongs,” said Phan, who is Santa Ana’s first Vietnamese American counselor. “I felt that was really important to me as someone trying to do their best to revitalize our Asian American heritage in the city.”

Woo thought the apology came at the right time as there had been an explosion of anti-Asian racism across the country. In 2020, there was an 1,800% increase in reported anti-Asian American hate incidents in Orange County, according to the Orange County Human Relations Commission.

Council members support the allocation of funds for a future Chinatown fire memorial. However, the apology will likely be voted on later this month, which is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

“People’s democracy has been used against Chinese Americans,” Woo said. “That deserves an apology. The lives of more than 200 Chinese immigrants have been affected by this decision.

Tony Lam stands in front of the park that now bears his name.

Tony Lam, center, the first Vietnamese American elected to public office in the United States, stands in front of the park that now bears his name.

(Ben Brazil)


The first Vietnamese American elected to public office in the United States was honored this week when a park was renamed in his honor. Tony Lam made history when he claimed a seat on Westminster City Council in 1992. Lam, who fled his home country after the Vietnam War, has always watched over his community. While on the council, he helped Vietnamese immigrants obtain business licenses, pushed for the establishment of a center for the elderly, and helped establish “Little Saigon” as a landmark.

Tustin officials this week opened a future community resource center and short-term transitional housing for the homeless. The project will be led by Family Promise of Orange County, an organization that mobilizes faith community volunteers to end homelessness in OC, my colleague Sarah Mosqueda wrote. “Homelessness is such an issue that affects Tustin, Orange County and the whole nation, frankly,” Tustin Mayor Austin Lumbard said. “Anytime we can collaborate in a public-private partnership to do something like this, we’re moving towards solutions for homelessness.”

After helping to establish cancer treatment facilities at Hoag Hospital, Newport Beach philanthropist Sandy Sewell died late last month at the age of 87. Decades ago, Sewell and a group of women founded a donor support group for the Hoag Cancer Center. This group has raised more than $23 million for the Hoag Family Cancer Institute since its inception, wrote journalist Sara Cardine. The topic of cancer was important to Sewell, who was a breast cancer survivor.

The police academy at Golden West College in Huntington Beach will be investigated following allegations by a former training officer that other training officers treated recruits unprofessionally. Some of those behaviors involved “unnecessary” lunch inspections, which cut recruits’ 30-minute lunch hours in half so officers could identify restricted items like sugary foods, Hyeyoon reporter Alyssa Choi wrote. The former training officer also said he received a report from a relative of a former recruit who had developed blisters while crawling on hot asphalt.

The town of Fountain Valley hopes to make significant revenue from an electronic billboard that the city council approved this week. The city will enter into a 15-year lease for the sign if it receives final approval from Caltrans and a state agency. If the city extends the lease to 30 years, it will earn $30 million, my colleague Andrew Turner wrote.

Ira Glass, host and creator of This American Life, is coming to the Irvine Barclay Theater on Wednesday, May 11

Ira Glass, host and creator of “This American Life,” arrives at the Irvine Barclay Theater on May 11.

(Sandy Honig)


Ira Glass, known for the groundbreaking radio show “This American Life,” will perform next week at the Irvine Barclay Theater. When Glass released her show in 1995, she redefined the way stories could be told on radio. He has won seven Peabody Prizes and the first-ever Pulitzer Prize for audio journalism. Her performance will mirror her radio show but will be tailored for live, in-person audiences. “It’s basically just an excuse to tell a bunch of really entertaining, funny, emotional stories,” Glass told TimesOC on Tuesday. “And some of them are about things that I’ve actually learned doing my job and doing a show, and some of them are just stories from the show that are really fun to present to an audience.”

Second Harvest Food Bank this week received a donation of half a ton of guacamole from Wholly Guacamole Company. The company made the donation to help families in need in May. The first shipment arrived just in time for Cinco de Mayo. Several members of the Wholly Guacamole team also volunteered earlier this week to help prepare food for distribution to needy families around Orange County.

Over the weekend, members of the Rotary Club of Newport-Irvine and other community members planted trees and other native plants to celebrate Arbor Day. About 15 trees and about 200 native shrubs have been planted, writes my colleague Lilly Nguyen. The plants were sourced from Irvine-based Shadetree Nursery.

Surfer Peter Mel will be inducted into the Surfers Hall of Fame at Huntington Beach.

Surfer Peter Mel will be inducted into the Surfers Hall of Fame at Huntington Beach.

(Raul Roa)


Three more people will be inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfers Hall of Fame this year. Surfer Peter Mel, surf explorer Martin Daly and Sugar Shack Cafe owner Michele Turner will be commemorated at a ceremony in August. Journalist Matt Szabo wrote about each of the inductees and why they are legends in the surfing industry.

Taylor Ward became one of the Angels’ best hitters by learning from his friend Trent Woodward, who studied hitting concepts while playing minor league ball. By adjusting parts of his hitting, such as the relationship between the lean of his body and the angle of the bat at the start of the downswing, Ward was able to reorganize his swing, wrote journalist Mike Digiovanna. “I did a lot of swing changes with my guy, Trent Woodward,” Ward said. “He learned a lot while he was with the Astros and explained to me the philosophies they were learning back then. I took them to heart and really took them to another level, and that’s really what helped me.

Shohei Ohtani led the Angels to an 8-0 rout against the Boston Red Sox this week. Ohtani put in an incredible performance, with 11 strikeouts and two hits. Angels manager Joe Maddon called Ohtani’s play “unusual” and “otherworldly”.

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