Chinese Memorial Shrine

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A frontal view of the Memorial Shrine from a photo taken in the 1890s (By permission of the Huntington Library Photo Archives and CHSSC website).
A frontal view of the Memorial Shrine from a photo taken in the 1890s (By permission of the Huntington Library Photo Archives and CHSSC website).

Located in Los Angeles, California, the Chinese Memorial Shrine at Evergreen Cemetery was built in 1888 by the early inhabitants of Old Chinatown. Two kilns or “burners” stand twelve feet high surrounding a central altar platform. Beginning in the late 1870s, Chinese Americans were forced to bury their deceased in a segregated section of the City Cemetery in what was referred to as a “Potter’s Field.” During funeral ceremonies, Chinese Americans burned gold and silver paper that symbolized money, clothes, and other personal items to pay respects to loved ones departed. These celebrations included a grand assortment of foods such as roast pig, poultry, fruits, and potable spirits. Joss sticks were also placed on the altar at burial and during seasonal rites and festivals such as Ch'ing Ming (Chinese Memorial Day), and Ch'ung-Yang Chieh (Hungry Ghosts or All Souls' Day). 

In 1937, many graves were disinterred to return the deceased back to their families in China. However, Ch'ing Ming and Ch'ung-Yang Chieh continued at the Shrine until approximately 1965. With space exhausted Evergreen Cemetery created new burial space by covering the shrine and the surrounding area with eight feet of compacted soil. Although the buried shrine was left untouched, it was soon facing imminent demolition. The Chinese Historical Society of Southern California advocated for its preservation and designated it as a Historic-Cultural Monument on August 31, 1990. 

Place(s): Los Angeles, CA

– Jeannette Nadal, Chinese Historical Society of Southern California

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