The Fall of the I-Hotel
“Even as the story unfolds toward the inevitable tragedy of the building’s demolition, Manong Al’s presence gave one an impression of hope. Not that idealistic hope that, perhaps, the fight against the city’s “development” plans might somehow prevail.
No, this hope was and still is something greater. Some fights that aren’t won are still victories — as evidenced by the outpouring of community support and internationalist solidarity for the I-Hotel. Though the building was lost, Manong Al and them laid the groundwork for all of us who continue their tireless work to stand up for our communities. The Fall of the I-Hotel, more than a story about a building, more than a story about its tenants or even the fight to save, is a rally cry still heard loud and clear nearly 30 years later.”
-Geologic (Blue Scholars)
Appeared in Racialicious Blog, May 6th, 2009
The I-Hotel, properly known as the International Hotel, was built in 1907 on Kearney St, a main artery in Downtown San Francisco (an area known as Manilatown). This period of time in San Francisco and many major cities on the west coast was characterized by mass development, expansion and renovation. The I-Hotel was designed to accommodate mostly lower income housing and its main tenants, although not exclusively, were Filipino immigrants. By 1968 the first eviction notices were sent out to the residents and all tenants had been evicted by the summer of 1977. The Fall of the I-Hotel is an Asian American documentary chronicling the struggle of the residents, local activists and the Asian American community.
The Fall of the I-Hotel is significant as an Asian American film as well as an emblem of the activism of the time. We have recently viewed Yellow Brotherhood, Manzanar and Homecoming Game to gain an understanding of what early Asian American cinema was like. Between these films we see that early Asian American cinema was relatively crudely made. There’s little crosscutting, a high level of fuzziness in the picture and most of the films appear to be hand held. We see an evolution in The I-Hotel, with its use of more formally recognized interview sequences, voiceovers and even claymation. There are, however, some remaining traits carrying on from the early Asian American film era that are readily apparent in particular scenes within The I-Hotel, one of which you will see today. Pay attention to how Manong Al Robles’ poem is read along with a man walking through the empty hotel.
This is a portrayal of an Asian American community as we have not seen yet in this class. The I-Hotel certainly stands apart from Hollywood cinema and the idealized Chinese community in Flower Drum Song. It is also unlike the Los Angeles urban blend that we see in Yellow Brotherhood. Curtis Choy and the producers of The Fall of the I-Hotel, made this film with a particular purpose and achieved a depth with the Asian American subjects of the film we have not seen previously.
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