SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS Radio) — A group of Chinatown activists is quietly exploring buying the landmark six-story Empress of China building to house what would be the first museum in the U.S. devoted to Chinese American history.

KPIX correspondent and San Francisco Chronicle writer Phil Matier, in Sunday’s Matier and Ross column, reports the group is hoping to honor the late S.F. Mayor Ed Lee.

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The building at 838 Grant Ave. overlooks historic Portsmouth Square, which some politicians have been pushing to rename after Lee. Now there’s talk of combining the two efforts.

Vincent Pan, executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, says the site is appealing both for its size and location.

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Empress of China Building

Empress of China building on Portsmouth Square in San Francisco. (Google Street View)

The Empress of China restaurant was a prominent gathering spot for celebrities and neighborhood regulars for decades before shuttering in 2014. At one time, the building had been earmarked as possible office space for a tech company and, more recently, as a hotel and restaurant. Both those ideas have run into roadblocks.

It’s unclear if property owner John Yee would be willing to accommodate the museum idea, either by selling or leasing the space.

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