Heinlenville was one of six San José Chinatowns. Archaeologists from the Anthropological Studies Center, Sonoma State University and local San José historians are working with the Redevelopment Agency, City of San José to unearth selected areas of Heinlenville and early Japantown. The test excavation took place from the 11th to 17th March 2008, and data recovery excavation was conducted from the 14th to 23rd of April 2009. Work continues now back at the ASC lab, as we process artifacts and soil samples recovered from the site.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Graduate Student's View of Heinlenville

Chelsea and Sandra scraping a trenchAs a first year graduate student in Sonoma State’s Cultural Resources Management masters program, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to participate in the excavations done in San Jose’s Heinlenville Chinatown. As this was my introduction to urban archaeology, I was able to learn a lot about how the pro’s from the ASC approach the archaeology of a large city block- as well as receive a few valuable pointers of the fine art of trowel manipulation!

Two archaeologists checking for features in a freshly exposed surface, while the Backhoe driver looks on.Over the week we were able to step back in time as our trusty backhoe driver skillfully peeled back the modern layers of asphalt and gravely fill and revealed the humble traces of the once thriving community of Heinlenville. Although much soil was scraped away during the construction of the recently demolished buildings, we were still left with a map illustrating decades of occupation and use long buried beneath the modern surface.

Patches of the original building foundations were neatly preserved, as well as several “robber’s trenches” where the valuable bricks had been removed for re-use after the razing of the buildings. In one pit, one could see the “evolution of the sewer pipe” as evident from the progression from redwood (yes, wood!) sewer lines, to the more familiar terracotta pipes that can still be seen today.

This project not only offered me a chance to learn more about archaeology as a science, but I was able to witness first hand how important archeology is to the community. Long time residents eagerly watched our progress and offered up historical anecdotes, and Connie Young Yu was able to witness the unveiling of her grandfather’s store. After half a century under asphalt, she was able to see and touch the remnants of a place she had heard stories of her whole life.

One of the stops along the tour, Chelsea looks on, as Stoyka describes what can be seen at this trench.I had the good fortune to be enlisted as a tour guide on our “Public Day”, and was able to connect with hundreds of enthusiastic visitors and neighborhood residents interested in the history and archaeology of San Jose’s early Chinese and Japanese populations. People who waited in long lines, braved the rain and cold wind, and yet were still cheery and full of good questions. Although I manned my post as tour guide for five hours straight, the energy and enthusiasm of the participants made my job fun and engaging.

At the tail end of the last tour, while overlooking the foundations of Connie Young Yu’s family store, a young boy earnestly asked, “Is that the Great Wall of China?” While the modest brick foundation may not have the illustrious reputation of China’s great wall, the wonder in the little boy’s eyes was undiscriminating. It is that same wonder that makes the blisters, sunburns, aches and pains, and inevitable coating of grime all worth while!

I was so happy to have been a part of such a fun and community supported project! The people were interested and friendly, the neighborhood had great food (we particularly loved the Ethiopian restaurant across the street), and everyone enthusiastically shared the common goal of bringing the town of Heinlenville back to life.

Chelsea cleaning a feature.Chelsea Rose
CRM Graduate Student, SSU

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Open House Heinlenville and Nihonmachi Archaeology — Sat. March 15th, 2008

Tour Group at one of the Archaeological Trenches
The community event, sponsored by the Anthropological Studies Center (ASC) and the Redevelopment Agency of the City of San José was on the 5th day of the rotation, and there was no telling how many people would show up, especially in weather that suddenly turned inclement. While the team was setting up that morning, there was intermittent rain (plus a bit of hail). This “open house” was more like an “open field day,” with the team out there draining the ditches of water.

In the whipping wind, Annita tacked down her “exhibits,” moving easels with photos and maps and improvising alternative set-ups. Archaeologists are unfazed by anything and ready for everything, I’ve learned. An hour before the start, as our team of guides and site interpreters gathered for a briefing by Adrian and Julia, there was already a crowd with umbrellas, gathering at the gate on Taylor Street.

History BoothThen they came in, wave after wave. Families with young children, elderly residents from the neighborhood, many an official “V.I.P.,” reporters and a boy scout troop; from the South Bay, but also Oakland, Lafayette, Mendocino, and Sacramento. People responded as if it was truly a unique, once in a lifetime event. A history area set up by Leslie was a source of orientation and information. Each group was taken on a guided tour on a route that went to each of the open trench sites. Field Director Mike Meyer had marked in color Cleveland Ave. and store sites so visitors had a sense of the imprint of Heinlenville.

Annita with tour groupTour leaders, armed with maps, explained the layout of the town and narrated the community’s unique history as well. The archaeologist, stationed at each trench site gave an authoritative but friendly presentation to each rotating group. Over and over. And answered question after question. (“Is that the Great Wall of China” asked a tiny kid of Bryan who was showing the brick foundation at 34 Cleveland.) The first trench, was at the site of the store of May Wah (head of Hop Sing Tong) where pig bones were found.

Children were thrilled for the chance to do some screening themselves and find artifacts—a hands-on archaeological experience for all ages.

Poster with historical photos of 34 Cleveland and John C. Young, etc.Down the street was the site of my Grandfather’s store, Kwong Wo Chan, now with an easel in front with a picture of the store, photos of my dad, John C. Young, biking down Cleveland, and my grandmother with her neighbors. At the trench of the restaurant, Ken Ying Low, I noticed that people wanted to handle the porcelain pieces, and Mike S. said, “go ahead, touch it, it’s survived a hundred years.”

The last stop, where I was stationed most of the time, was the site of the Ng Shing Gung Temple, center of the Chinese community and heart of its culture. There at the corner of Taylor and 6th I had the expansive view of Cleveland Avenue and people walking towards me. The clouds had scattered and the sky was big and bright. This is the same fung swei my ancestors felt in 1887. When the visitors gathered around, I was inspired to tell them of the scene my father described: how on the eve of every feast day, the Lunar New Year or Dai Jui, people would come out of their stores with pots and bowls to go to the mui (temple) for their share of the “jai” prepared by the caretaker and blessed by two Taoist priests. I even gave the recipe, which I learned through oral history to me from my grandparents. People seemed fully engaged in the tour and impressed by the significance of what they saw.

Connie talking to a tour groupI wanted to express how I felt about the spirit of the people who lived here, their struggle against exclusion, and how they had a home base here for 44 years because of the courage of John Heinlen, but I think they had already gotten it by now.

For me, as a historian and descendant of this Chinese community, it was a deeply involving personal experience, with even some surprising revelations. Folks told me stories—they shared their memories. A Filipino couple who used to live in the area said they had been in the temple as curious children, and described how dark and mysterious it was, with incense burning.

Ed and Vince ChinI guided two elderly men, Ed and Vince Chin, cousins who met up for the first time in ten years—at this Open House—to the site of my grandfather’s store. I pointed to the photos and asked questions and learned more than I expected. Ed Chin used to live on 6th street and knew my grandparents and dad. Vince lived at his family store next to my grandfather’s. He walked silently and slowly with a cane, but the place evoked his memories. He suddenly told of how he used to peek through the wooden cracks of the walls and watch my Grandmother. I asked cautiously, what was she doing? He responded vigorously, “Making whiskey!”

At the end of the Open House, working without a break, everyone on the team was hoarse, parched, hungry and exhausted, but smiling and up because of the enthusiastic turnout. Many visitors expressed their enthusiasm and gratitude upon leaving. One guest told me, how wonderful the tour was, that it was “like a PBS experience!”

“Come and See Archaeology in Action” said the announcement and 540 people came and did just that. It was an amazing day. I want to say Julia, Adrian, Charlene, Annita, Mike M., Mike S., Mark, Charlie, Chelsea, Erica, Sandra, Bryan, Maria, Leslie, Rut, Erin, Elaine-Maryse, Bryan and Anna, every single one of the crew and volunteers who made this day happen! Well done!

Connie Young Yu

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Artifact Show and Tell - Archaeology Open House

Photo of E. Gibson talking to visitors about artifactsIt’s two days after Public Day and I’m still tired. Like many of us, I was assigned to man a single station. By myself. As ASC Lab Manager the artifact table was a natural selection. I felt quite smug that morning when I set up an “Easy-Up” to provide shelter from the rain for the artifacts and, just as importantly, myself. I soon recognized the folly of my ways. Only a few passing showers appeared and I was left shivering in the shade as the wind picked up throughout the day. By the final hour I was literally holding onto the shelter to keep it from blowing away into the Porto-lets located just behind me.

Photo of medicine vialsThose scattered showers and high winds did nothing to curb the public in their interest in archaeology. More than 500 people came to visit the site… and the artifact table which was covered with the fruits of our labors to date. Probably the most asked about group of artifacts were the Chinese medicine vials, often mistakenly assumed to be opium bottles. These small, thick-walled, tapered vials are often found on archaeological sites and typically contained a single dose of a liquid medicine or a small quantity of pills. Opium, a thick sticky substance, would have been impossible to remove from these vials.

Photo of Gentleman explaining the use of grinding stoneAmong the finds from the project was a grinding stone with a wonderfully smooth surface over which the kids liked to run their fingers. Several visitors spent some time explaining to me exactly how the stone was used; one gentleman went into great detail as he had toiled many an hour as a youngster using the same type of grinding stone in his mother’s kitchen. His family would soak soybeans overnight and then feed them into the hole on the top of the stone. As he used a sturdy stick to turn the stone and grind the beans, soy milk would be caught in a lower, wider grooved stone while soy paste would be held in the stone. He informed me that product was “very nutritious”.

All who came to visit the artifact table found something of interest. Children were as curious about the food bones I had set out for display (an assortment of pig’s feet, chicken, and cow) as they were the bone toothbrush and porcelain doorkn
ob. I could feel the sincere pleasure of several elderly Chinese women when they viewed the items on the table, things that may have been used by their parents and grandparents. Local historians were intrigued with a silver knife handle from the Hotel Vendome, a first-class hotel in San Jose which was built in 1888 and later demolished in 1930. Truly, there was a little something for everyone!

Photo of E. GibsonErica Gibson
Lab Manager &
ASC Archaeologist

Sunday, March 16, 2008

View from a Trench: Archaeology Open House

The rest of the crew solemnly avowed that I was the one of the few members who had the intellect and the ability to write a blog entry. Deeply honoured, I agreed to write on the public day we had yesterday. So tonight, after work hours, that is what I am doing. The rest of the crew is at a bar.

Open house photo"The View from a Trench" is kind of a standard title for archaeological papers, but that is all I can offer. I literally went into a trench at 11:00 am at the start of public day and (other than one hasty potty break) did not come out again until 4:00 pm. I have no idea what went on in the other trenches. I have no idea what went on anywhere. For me it was 5 hours of standing in a muddy 30-ft square pit and expounding on my three features to group after group after group. My three features were a robbed-out foundation trench for a Chinese tenement, a wood-lined sewer, and a later trench for a terracotta sewer-pipe.

I talked about the process of exposing feature stains, excavating sections to identify and date them, and I talked about the nature of backyards in the late 19th and early 20th century. I talked about sewer hookups and privies and trash disposal. I talked non-stop for 5 hours. At the end of the day my jaw ached and my lips were numb. I was hungry because I didn't get lunch AT ALL. Did I mention I only got one potty break?

Mark Walker talking about sewers, etc.It sounds bad but it wasn't bad. I really didn't notice that I hadn't had lunch, when normally I start citing union rules and labor law if lunch is called 5 minutes late. I can't speak for the audience but the public day was exciting for the archaeologists. The number of people was far more than we anticipated. Far more. It was gratifying and a bit unexpected to see that level of public interest in the archaeology and in the history of Heinlenville and Nihonmachi. I was near the end of the tour, and people still seemed alert and interested. Given that each tour was about 40 minutes and I was waxing eloquent on the significance of sewer pipes and trash pick-up, the visitors may have just been unusually polite. Or maybe they had used our on-site porta-johns and really understood the utility of a fully functioning sewer line. But I think it was more than that.

bowl fragmentsSewer lines, porcelain bowls and spoons, a discarded reel of movie film—these are all incredibly mundane. But it is because they are so mundane that they have power. Archaeology is not about great events, famous people, and great architecture and art. It is about regular people getting by the best that they can, often under difficult circumstances. These are things with which most people can empathize. The importance of this site lies not only in the decency of John Heinlen, but in the lives the inhabitants of Heinlenville and Nihonmachi managed to create for themselves, even amidst the looming threat of mob violence and legislative repression.

Photo of M. WalkerMark Walker
ASC Archaeologist

Looking for Artifacts – Archaeology Open House

Photo of Visitors screening for artifactsDuring our Open House, I worked at the artifact screening station, where visitors had a chance to try their hand at archaeology. Kids and adults experienced firsthand the process of archaeological excavation as they searched through soil that we had excavated earlier this week. They found artifacts used during the area’s historic-period occupation, including fragments of food bones, tools, dishes, and food storage containers. These artifacts will go back to our ASC lab for analysis, and will help us to tell the stories of the people who used them.

Sandra Massey
ASC Archaeologist

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ng Shing Gung Temple Uncovered

Ng Shing Gung TempleWe worked today to uncover the Ng Shing Gung Temple. This temple was the religious and cultural heart of the Heinlenville community. The top story of the two-story building contained the community altar, while the bottom story was used for community meetings and the children’s Chinese language school. A replica of the temple was built at Kelley Park, San Jose.

Finding the foundations for the Ng Shing Gung TempleUsing the backhoe, we stripped the asphalt and gravel fill on what we thought to be the location of the temple based on historic maps. Our first indication that we might have picked the right spot was a rough line of old bricks. The bricks fell along the alignment of what would have been the temple wall. The backhoe stripped off more asphalt to give us a better look and found the corner and foundations of the temple that would have fronted the old Cleveland Street. In many ways, this is one of the most exciting things we could have found. It is a tangible link between today’s Chinese American community in San Jose and its historic heart.

Archaeologists of the Anthropological Studies Center (ASC)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Going Around Aground

We’re getting down and dirty and finding not only the buried Chinatown and Japantown structural beginnings but also a sense of the communities once so vibrant on this site. I have been entrusted with being one of the community volunteers “embedded” with the archeologists and historians working on this project. Though unschooled in the procedures, I’m learning from the archaeologists how a project is approached, what careful steps are required in handling the material, how information is analyzed, and … how very hard it is on your knees.

This first phase is the sampling of potential fruitful sites in the historic Heinlenville and Nihonmachi areas. The archeologists and historians have targeted some of the most likely sites from the old Sanborn Fire Insurance maps – and like buried treasure, things are being found where the maps have indicated. The first site dug was on the Sanborn map identified as a “Chinese Theater.” No theatrical paraphernalia was found but many chips of porcelain, chunks of stoneware (what I have taken to calling “the brown stuff”), glass medicinal bottles, rusted nails, bone bits, and even a few mystery pieces were. The major artifact find was a half of a millstone. The question now being asked used by whom and for what? Chinese or Japanese use? Or someone else?

Nothing could be more personal than Chinese Historian Connie Young Yu’s watchful wait as the backhoe scooped up dirt from the area where her Grandfather’s store was located and the excitement of finding part of the wall from the building. Seeing Connie’s family pictures of Heinlenville really made the connection between the bricks buried in the dirt to a place where people lived and worked.

In another site (where I got to do a little archeological troweling, and found out where archeologists get carpal tunnel syndrome) drainage pipes and sewer drains were found and I learned more about the history of trash and sewer lines than I think I want to know.

The prize site was where Ng Shing Gung, the temple, was located. A portion
of the wall was found and from that Archeologist Julia Costello and Historians Charlene Duval and Connie Young Yu began to outline the building’s layout. As probably the center of much of the community’s activities and the last building standing, it is hoped that this site will yield a great deal more information.

This is a great project for the community for not only through the archeology are the physical remains being unearthed, but as the project has continued, the living community has begun to unearth their personal histories. Individuals are bringing photographs and other materials to share and conveying the stories of what they remember or what their parents or grandparents recalled. Truly the re-discovery of the history through these many layers will make our forgotten communities become alive.

So, off to more moving of dirt with hopes of finding more great stuff, but maybe this time with a pair of kneepads.

Leslie Masunaga

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Day 1: Heinlenville Excavation

We arrived at the Heinlenville-Nihonmachi site on Tuesday morning. Previously, we had used historic maps to find out where Heinlenville’s streets, alleys, and buildings had once been located, and to select areas we wanted to test. Six test locations had been selected; a store, a restaurant, some backyard areas, and the location of the Ng Shing Gung temple.

When we arrived on site, the whole area was covered in asphalt.
Using our historic maps, we marked out the locations of the historic streets and property corners. Our backhoe driver, Ryan, pulled up the asphalt covering our test locations, and then scraped away the layers of gravel fill in order to reach the historic ground surface. We knew when we reached this surface from changes in the color and texture of the soil. Soon we were able to see remnants of the foundations of the buildings that once stood on the site. We uncovered brick foundations of the store of Young Soong Quong, and found fragments of porcelain bowls and other artifacts.

Sandra Massey,
ASC Archaeologist

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Heinlenville Dig Begins

Dear Friends of Heinlenville

The Sonoma State U. archaeologists were on-site at the Corporation Yard site (aka "Heinlenville/Nihonmachi") early this morning, thanks to the city, and able to dig their trenches. The parking lot site was first and already has yielded shards of various pottery/glass, plus other small pieces including what looks like a bicycle or buggy hub. The other four trenches will be explored as the job progresses over these next ten days. These sites will include those of the Chinese temple, a restaurant and a store.

Enthusiasm is high for finding more significant pieces/features as the dig moves on. However, everyone has been slowed by the significant press coverage. Three of the major TV stations sent reporters out for several hours interviewing the archaeology teams and also Japantown community representatives Leslie Masunaga and myself, plus historian Connie Young Yu whose family store will be explored here. Additionally three of the Chinese newspapers, plus Chinese language TV's KTSF were also out on site. We have been in contact with these folks for weeks before the digging started, so I am happy to see that they are finding this so very "newsworthy"

I have contacted all of the big three Japanese American newspapers but so far I have not seen any coverage, so keep your fingers crossed for their reports. Perhaps the initial archaeology is more of a Chinese story, but as the dig goes on and especially as the entire project moves forward, then it will be a story for all the papers/TV stations, ethnic and otherwise. As I publicly remarked earlier, this story is not just local, but national and international in importance.

Your embedded reporter
Rod Lum
Japantown Community Congress member

Friday, March 7, 2008

Archaeology Open House

On Saturday, 15 March from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. the public is invited to an Archaeological Open House for the Heinlenville and Nihonmachi site. Entrance to the site is on Taylor Street, between Sixth and Seventh streets. Planned activities include guided tours, presentations from local historians and archaeologists, displays of artifacts and an opportunity to watch the crew members at work.

Groups of ten or more who want to attend the open house are asked to register by emailing and include the estimated time of arrival.

Please note that minors must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Site History

Heinlenville was constructed in 1887 by German immigrant and local businessman, John Heinlen in partnership with San José’s Chinese leaders after San José's Market Street Chinatown was destroyed by arson. It grew into a thriving community, home to storekeepers, laborers and their families. Heinlenville’s stores, restaurants and boarding houses became an important base for Chinese and Japanese immigrant agricultural workers in the Santa Clara valley.

By the early 1900s, a collection of wood-frame buildings containing both Japanese and Chinese homes and businesses grew along the Sixth Street frontage on the edge of Heinlenville. This area came to be called Nihonmachi or “Japan Town.” San José’s modern Japantown grew from these early beginnings.

Heinlenville declined in the late 1920s, as people moved elsewhere. After 1932 the community’s brick buildings were gradually demolished to make way for the City of San José Corporation Yard. The center of the community, the Ng Shing Gung temple was demolished in 1949. Japantown however, survived the World War II internments and continues to be a thriving community. Despite its demolition, the site of Heinlenville and early Nihonmachi remains important to the Santa Clara Chinese-American and Japanese-American communities.

History of Heinlenville and Nihonmachi (432 KB PDF)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Today, the Heinlenville block bounded by Taylor, Jackson, Sixth and Seventh streets, in San Jose is slated for development. Archaeologists from the Anthropological Studies Center, Sonoma State University and local San Jose historians are working with the Redevelopment Agency, City of San José to unearth selected areas of Heinlenville and early Japantown. We hope to uncover the remains of houses, backyards, restaurants, and stores, as well as those of Heinlenville’s original Ng Shing Gung Temple. The excavation will continue for 10 days from 11 to 20 March 2008, and will help us understand the lives of early Chinese and Japanese settlers in San José.