In the beginning, there were the minds behind the museum |

In the beginning, there were the minds behind the museum

Becky Bosshart
Appeal Staff Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Khan Tung, senior associate at Hannafin Design, talks about plans for the Chinese Workers Museum on Wednesday morning from his Carson City office.

Since unveiling plans this past week for a $50 million museum dedicated to Nevada’s 19th century Chinese immigrants, the project designers have fielded calls from interested volunteers and companies looking for work.

The museum plan includes a six-story glass conical structure flanked by two six-story buildings designed to resemble ancient Chinese gateways. The museum steering committee would like to place the 250,000-square-foot museum complex on Bureau of Land Management property near the intersection of Brunswick Canyon and Deer Run roads.

The design is still conceptual; the plan is only about two-and-a-half years old. The six-member steering committee – which includes powerful names like Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Gov. Kenny Guinn and state Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno – hasn’t secured any funding, sponsors, or the land to build the project.

But they’re eager to start.

Those involved with the project would like to have it built in five years. The designers say that’s possible. Committee Chairwoman Cheryl Lau, former secretary of state, says it’s “doable.”

Khan Tung, co-director of the Chinese Workers Museum of America, said the scope of the plan has generated a lot of emotion from locals. He and co-director Art Hannafin, owner of Hannafin Design in Carson City, have donated their time to design the museum. They said it’s taken thousands of hours to get to the point where they could release information to the public, which happened March 10.

“I can’t predict who is going to pull out their checkbook and write out an amount, but, nevertheless, I think this is a grassroots project that interests people in China and the United States,” Tung said.

That includes Chinese Americans who’ve built strong companies here, and others interested in attaching their corporate image to a project that could attract scholars and historians from across the country.

The directors have spoken to one potential sponsor, a bank that has business ties in China.

The spot where they want to put the museum is south of a proposed 150-acre commercial and residential development planned by RIDL Ltd. This development, and the museum, is betting on the star power of the $40 million reconstructed Virginia & Truckee Railway, a tourist track that will operate between Carson City and Virginia City by 2010. The visitors attracted to the V&T would also visit a museum dedicated to those who labored on the railroad, the directors say, which could total half a million visitors to the museum a year.

The museum’s steering committee decided to look at acquiring the property along the Carson River because land in Reno along the Truckee River was too expensive. Khan said one parcel the committee considered cost $6 million.

The steering committee will form the board of directors, and it will appoint members to subcommittees, which will handle issues such as fundraising and operations.

“A project of this scale will have many tiers of fundraising – international, national,” Tung said. “The committee will probably hire a fundraising company.”

The design has been shown to Peng Keyu, consul general for the People’s Republic of China, to test the water for Chinese interest in the project.

In a letter dated June 2004, Keyu wrote to the committee: “My Consulate will support this project within our limited capacity. I hope the project will move forward smoothly and become a lasting symbol in honor of the Chinese workers.”

Tung, whose parents are from China, said “with that kind of support we felt like we were on the right path.”

That path led them to Carson City, which has a small Asian population – only about 2 percent according to federal estimates.

Tung said the committee didn’t even look at land prices in San Francisco because the initial search for land in Reno came in so high. The fundraising committee could work for five years and only raise enough to buy the land in San Francisco.

California has a large Asian population, but in Nevada’s early days, the Chinese helped develop the state. The directors said this is why the museum is important to Nevada.

“The place of history is here,” he said.

Hannafin said the history of the Chinese settlers is in the Sierra – this is where they came to find their “gold mountain,” which turned out to be a hollow dream. By design, that’s what the gold and silver conical structure is meant to convey: a hollow mountain.

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.