The Mission-style building that houses the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum was originally built to house a Chinese Mission where Chinese immigrants were taught to speak English. The building was designed by Louis J. Gill, nephew of famed architect, Irving Gill.
Later, the building served as home to the Chinese Community Church for 30 years, after which the congregation moved to a new building constructed on 47th Street.
The original mission building sat unused for over 20 years and was slated for demolition until three concerned citizens, Sally Wong-Avery, Dorothy Him, and City Councilman Tom Hom initiated a successful campaign to save the building. It was eventually uprooted from its original location and repurposed as a cultural museum at 404 Third Street.
The museum features a permanent collection and ongoing exhibitions. Part of the permanent exhibit is a timeline that ties together items on display with their historical period and significance. One side covers Chinese history from the Shang to the Qing dynasty, and the other covers this history of Chinese American immigration focused on the San Diego community. The permanent exhibition also includes a segment on Traditional Chinese Medicine and herbalism, and sections on religion, philosophy, Chinese folk art, Chinese Laundries, and other culturally significant subjects.