October 1996 | Volume 47, Issue 6
On October 24 hundreds of white Los Angelenos surrounded a Chinatown building and yelled for the massacre of its occupants. The rowdies had come seeking retribution for the murder of a policeman and several other citizens who had interfered in a dispute between Chinese gangs. The offenders in that crime were holed up in the Coronel Building, on Chinatown’s notorious Galle de los Negros. When they saw the numbers facing them, the killers tried to surrender.
The mob would have none of it. One Chinese man peeked out the door and was greeted with a fusillade of bullets. Another made a break and was shot dead; still another was captured, beaten, and hanged. The vigilantes then broke through the roof and proceeded to flush out any Chinese they could find, pausing only to steal what was left behind. Others lynched and looted their way down the street. Rioting continued for four hours before the sheriff could restore order. The final tally: four Chinese shot, fifteen hanged. Only one of the victims had any connection with the original killings.
The riot was Los Angeles’s first major appearance in the national news, and not an auspicious one. Yet it had the paradoxical effect of ending two years of lawlessness that had started soon after completion of the transcontinental railroad. A vigorous roundup of rioters drove much of the criminal element elsewhere, and responsible citizens took care to prevent any recurrence. Almost overnight Los Angeles had a reputation for peace and tranquillity that it would enjoy well into the next century.