The 'I' Is for Irony

After more than 20 years, a new International Hotel is set to rise on the site where riot police evicted elderly tenants during one of the city's most famous protests

[Rebuilding the I Hotel] is a just result. The same exact people won't be able to live there -- it's 20 years later -- but at least the same concept is being implemented. Yes, it's very ironic.


Bill Sorro was a young organizer of the eviction fights. He is on the city's advisory committee and the board of the Manilatown Heritage Foundation. He is a housing organizer with the Mission Housing Development Corp.

I was looking at the newspaper and saw, in 1969, these old tenants out there picketing on the street against eviction. I looked at 'em and I thought, "This is wrong, old people put out on the street like that." By early 1970 I had moved in. I was part of the workers' collective. My room was $45 a month, and I worked on the hotel six or seven days a week.

There was constant organizing. There were never periods where there was not an anxiety about the eviction. But in 1973 when the tenants understood that we had exhausted the political process, the only thing left was to get in their face. So there were demonstrations in City Hall.

There was also a scheme to find a way for the tenants to buy the building. But that was for naught because Four Seas [the owners], they are not philanthropists. They wanted so much for that building -- $1.5 million in the 1970s. The kicker was that they wanted us to pay it back in a year and a half. There was no way we could raise that much.

So we just continued pushing the legal fight and trying to engage the city as much as we could. We didn't think we were going to lose, there was so much momentum.

What's important, though, is the vigilance of the people protecting the land [since then] ... that nothing would go there unless there was affordable housing on it.

I think the city knew they had fucked up royally. They were embarrassed, and it had such a legacy attached to it, how violent the evictions of the tenants really were. In compensation for this guilt, they set aside money for rebuilding of new senior housing.

We [the advisory committee] saw a number of development schemes. Countless schemes of these goddamn fat pigs who wanted to come in there and score. The only one I got involved in was the latest one, the partnership with the archdiocese.

It was a long, bitter fight to save the I Hotel, and the way we were put out, it left scars. To honor the old Asian tenants, these wonderful men, it is our responsibility to see that only the most admirable things happen to that site in their name. That's why we do it.

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