Race Against Time: Saving the Largest Archive of Chinese American History From FireBreaking News
tags: historic preservation, Chinese Americans, archives
In January, a fire tore through an historic building in the heart of Manhattan's Chinatown, threatening to engulf decades of artifacts documenting Chinese life in the US.
The 130-year-old building, a former school turned community center, was home to the archives of the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) -- the world's largest archive of Chinese American history.
Some 85,000 items, dating from the late 1800s through the present, appeared doomed. Included in the varied archive was a Chinese typewriter from the 1920s, costumes used by the Cantonese opera clubs that proliferated in North American Chinatowns from the 1930s, and an 1883 document about the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first law to restrict a specific ethnic group from immigrating to America.
The floor that housed the collection was ultimately spared by the fire, though it was drenched with water during extensive firefighting efforts. Conservators said the items needed to be retrieved within days to save them from mold and water damage, and cultural institutions across the country reached out with offers of freezer space and expertise. However, city officials said the building wouldn't be safe to enter for weeks. The roof and several floors had caved in, and experts worried the ceiling above the archive would collapse too.
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