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Historic hotel rises from rubble

Erin Pangilinan, Aug 31, 2005
SAN FRANCISCO — “LONG LIVE the I-Hotel! Power to the people! Long live the struggle!” the crowd chanted during the opening of the new International Hotel (I-Hotel) Senior Housing complex on Friday.

Cutting the ceremonial ribbon was Sen. Dianne Feinstein, San Francisco’s mayor from 1978-1988, around the time of I-Hotel’s demise. She said she had hoped to see the building up and running by 1984, but was still happy to see that the building was finally in place in 2005 after a long battle.

The old 152-room hotel provided affordable housing to elderly minorities, including Filipinos and Chinese, for nearly three decades. It also provided office space to 10 community-based service agencies and businesses.

After the seniors who made I-Hotel their home for many years were ejected by San Francisco sheriffs, the area was bulldozed in 1979 to give way to gentrification. High-priced condominiums, swank boutiques and parking garages rose.

An air of nostalgia was thick in Friday’s opening as manong (a Tagalog term of respect for an elder) Gaudiosio Galincia and Ernest Cinco played the guitar and violin as manong Ros Daga sang Dahil sa Iyo.

The three musicians are applying for housing in the new I-Hotel. They also accompanied San Francisco Poet Laureate Al Robles read from his poem “Rapping With 10,000 Carabaos in the Dark,” expressing the spirit of Manilatown.

At the opening invited guests and journalists were given a tour of the 105-unit, 15-storey housing facility, much larger than the original tenement-structured hotel.

Luna Salavar, whose father owned Manila Café (later renamed Mabuhay Gardens), the pool hall across from the old I-Hotel, welcomed the opportunity to visit the building.

It was an occasion for fond remembrances with the manongs and other former tenants who spent time in her father’s pool hall business.

SoMa native Tim Dayonot remembered hanging out at the karate school across from the I-Hotel as a teen, where they presented Christmas shows for the manongs.

“Manilatown’s Filipinos were pioneers as many of Bay Area residents originated from there,” said Dayonot, director of California’s Department of Community Services and Development.

Reverend Norman Fong led the chanting in honor of “all the people who were unjustly evicted” from the old I-Hotel.

The new building has 88 studio and 16 one-bedroom apartments and a manager unit. It also includes a 1,800-sq. ft. community room on the third floor with a senior nutrition program operated by Self Help for The Elderly; a 1,700-sq. ft. rooftop garden; and a 2,400-sq. ft. cultural center on the ground floor with art and photos commemorating the I-Hotel Struggle.

The cultural center is named the Diosdado “Dado” and Maria Banatao Education Center. Dado, known as the “Filipino Bill Gates,” is the Silicon Valley whiz who made his fortune in computer chips.

The Legacy Wall on the ground floor, a glass display engraved with the names of public and private donors and supporters, was built with the bricks from the original foundation of the old I-Hotel.

The project is receiving Project Rental Assistance from the HUD Section 202 program that makes the rents affordable to low income seniors, who are required to pay only pay 30 percent of their income for rent. In the early 1900s, the rent was $50 a month.
Over 7,000 people applied for housing. Preference will be given for manongs, former tenants, and World War II Veterans.

Diosdado Banatao and his wife Maria initiated fundraising for Manilatown Heritage Foundation (MHF), encouraging other FilAms to donate. They donated $500,000 in February and vowed to match the remainder of donations dollar-for-dollar.

Parents to three American-born children, the Banataos said, “We always made sure they know their roots.”

Dado said he wanted the public to understand what the FilAm community has contributed to American culture.

“We want the public, particularly the youth to understand the roles that we play in the U.S., that we are a part of this community and we did add much to the American culture,” he said.

The accomplishments and achievements of the Filipino community will not go unobserved. “We are just part of the chain of efforts. While we gave a little, all the thank-yous are for the people who put this together. We know how hard that is. This is just the beginning. We wish to be able to be a part of this and participate in this Filipino community movement (make it known that) we (Filipinos) matter and show that we can do more.”

Wife Maria recalls her conversation with MHF President and former I-Hotel tenant Emil DeGuzman about the I-Hotel struggle as a “touching moment.”

“What we liked to do was to get more people involved, it’s not going to happen with just one person initially. We are hoping others will participate,” she said.

The Dado and Maria Banatao Education Center, she said, would “provide a good database of information available to anyone who wants to learn about Filipino culture and activities.”

The grand opening signified the renewal of I-Hotel as a historic landmark that enshrines the contributions of the FilAm community to California culture.

DeGuzman said the I-Hotel has become a national symbol, gaining notice by those on the East Coast.

“(The possibilities) of what we can do—is boundless. The I-Hotel is a memorial monument for all Manilatown landmarks that were destroyed,” he said.

Former mayor of San Francisco, Willie Brown, described the I-Hotel struggle as a “people’s movement,” and its restoration a “historic symbol” of a cultural effort that reverberated across the nation.


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