National Register of Historic Places in Monterey County
The Republic Cafe is located where Salinas Chinatown used to be.
The first Chinatown, established in 1872, was destroyed by fire in 1893. Within four days, Chinese merchants established a new Chinatown just a few blocks to the east on Soledad Street between East Lake Street and East Market Street.
Chinese merchants flourished by serving farm laborers, both Chinese and other nationalities including Japanese, Filipinos, braceros and Mexicans. The Chinese strengthened their presence by opening stores, restaurants, laundries and other businesses to serve the new immigrants.
Chinatown provided traditional cultural services for the Chinese population. A Joss House where children attended school. An elaborate temple where adults worshiped various gods. Tongs maintained order and protected Chinese immigrants without papers.
Chinatown peaked in the 1920s and the 1930s when Soledad Street and the surrounding neighborhood flourished with cigar stores, cafes, hotels, bars and pool halls. Illegal gambling and opium houses were periodically raided and shut down, usually for no more than a day. Salinas residents flocked to open houses and fireworks displays during Chinese New Year celebrations on Soledad Street.
The Republic Cafe was built in 1942 to meet a growing need for a restaurant that could accommodate gatherings of up to 150 people as well as intimate meals in private, curtained booths.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, many of the buildings in Chinatown were declared unsafe by the Federal Urban Renewal Program and bulldozed.
The Republic Cafe was one of the last businesses in the district when it closed in 1988.
Source: Adapted from the NRHP nomination submitted in 2011.
We visited the Republic Cafe on 26 May 2018.
When we turned right from Market Way onto Soledad Street, we encountered a tent encampment and dozens, if not hundreds, of homeless people on this one-block section of Soledad Street. It looked like San Francisco or downtown Los Angeles.
Photographing such misery seemed heartless.
We drove on.