Historic AAPI Shopping Center Nominated to State Register of Historic Places
Site has important connection to Vietnamese immigration following Vietnam War and is cornerstone of Denver’s East Asian Community
DENVER — February 8, 2024 — The Far East Center, a shopping center established by Vietnamese refugees in the Westwood neighborhood of Denver, has been added to the State Register of Historic Properties by History Colorado’s Board of Directors. This addition enshrines a cornerstone of Colorado’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in the historic record and is an important step toward ensuring the State Register of Historic Properties better represents the diverse communities of the Centennial State.
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“Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, and their contributions to our shared history, are significantly underrepresented on both the State and National Registers,” said Patrick Eidman, chief preservation officer and deputy state historic preservation officer. “The addition of the Far East Center not only helps the State Register tell a more complete history of Colorado, but also preserves the remarkable story of the Luong family coming to the United States, after being displaced and losing their worldly possessions as a result of the Vietnam War, and building this remarkable center of culture and commerce.”
Opened in 1988, the Far East Center features two large commercial buildings and is identified by a large Asian-themed Torii-style entry gate standing on its eastern edge. The site is characterized by the iconic red tile roofs on the entry gate and commercial buildings, a stylized Guardian Lion Statue, and the presence of signage presented in both Vietnamese and English.
Only the third property on the State Register dedicated to the history of Asian American and Pacific Islander Coloradans, the Far East Center was designed to evoke East Asian architectural styles and has a close connection to Denver’s Vietnamese immigrants and their descendants as well as the broader AAPI community.
This connection to the settlement of Vietnamese immigrants and refugees in Colorado following the end of the Vietnam war, along with the site's unique architectural characteristics – and its contributions to the economic growth of AAPI Denverites who continue to own and operate many of its businesses – were identified as contributing factors to the Far East Center’s historical importance.
Among those with deep connections to the Far East Center are the Luong family who fled Vietnam in 1975 before taking up residence in Denver. After working for several years at King Soopers, the Luong family pooled their resources to open a Vietnamese grocery store and in 1986 they worked with partners to purchase property and construct the Far East Center.
“This nomination is a huge honor for us that really highlights the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears that went into the creation of this plaza,” said Mimi Luong, owner of Trung on Gifts. “My family sold their small businesses and invested everything without knowing if it would pan out and it's been a very emotional experience to receive this recognition.”
Beyond its importance to the Luong family, the Far East Center has become a cornerstone of Denver’s “Little Saigon” District and serves as the venue for annual celebrations that provide a sense of place for the East Asian community. The businesses in the Far East Center also provide access to goods and foods central to many East Asian cultures that are not commonly carried at larger grocery stores.
“The Asian communities miss their food. This is a key part of our cultures and we try to keep that alive with businesses here,” Luong said. “We consider ourselves the heart of the community ‘Little Saigon’, but since we started the plaza the community has organically grown and expanded around us as people began to invest into not just Vietnamese but also Chinese-, Thai-, and Korean-owned small businesses.”
The addition of the Far East Center to the State Register of Historic Properties is part of History Colorado’s Colorado Heritage for All Initiative. An intentional effort to address the lack of representation of all Colorado's diverse communities on the State and National Register of Historic Places, the Colorado Heritage for All Initiative supports nominations and the listing of 150 currently unrecognized historic resources that tell the stories of marginalized communities by the end of 2026.
As part of the Colorado Heritage for All Initiative, History Colorado is seeking community suggestions for properties that are vital to understanding the history of the Centennial State. Coloradans are encouraged to submit suggestions for sites that should be added to the State and National Registers of Historic Places through this online submission form or by contacting the State Historic Preservation Office via Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About History Colorado
History Colorado is a division of the Colorado Department of Higher Education and a 501(c)3 non-profit that has served more than 75,000 students and 500,000 people in Colorado each year. It is a 144-year-old institution that operates eleven museums and historic sites, a free public research center, the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation which provides technical assistance, educational opportunities, and other access to archaeology and historic preservation, and the History Colorado State Historical Fund (SHF), which is one of the nation’s largest state funded preservation programs of its kind. More than 70% of SHF grants are allocated in rural areas of the state. Additionally, the offices of the State Archaeologist and the State Historic Preservation Officer are part of History Colorado.
History Colorado’s mission is to create a better future for Colorado by inspiring wonder in our past. We serve as the state’s memory, preserving and sharing the places, stories, and material culture of Colorado through educational programs, historic preservation grants, collecting, outreach to Colorado communities, the History Colorado Center and Stephen H. Hart Research Center in Denver, and 10 other museums and historic attractions statewide. History Colorado is one of only six Smithsonian Affiliates in Colorado. Visit HistoryColorado.org, or call 303-HISTORY, for more information. #HistoryColorado