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These photos show life in Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

Ian Smith

vgterty

The Chinatown centered on Grant Avenue and Stockton Street in San Francisco, California, is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community outside Asia. It is the oldest of the four notable Chinatowns in the city. Since its establishment in 1848, it has been highly important and influential in the history and culture of ethnic Chinese immigrants in North America. Chinatown is an enclave that continues to retain its own customs, languages, places of worship, social clubs, and identity. There are two hospitals, numerous parks and squares, a post office, and other infrastructure. While recent immigrants and the elderly choose to live in here because of the availability of affordable housing and their familiarity with the culture,  the place is also a major tourist attraction, drawing more visitors annually than the Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco’s Chinatown was the port of entry for early Hoisanese and Zhongshanese Chinese immigrants from the Guangdong province of southern China from the 1850s to the 1900s. The area was the one geographical region deeded by the city government and private property owners which allowed Chinese persons to inherit and inhabit dwellings within the city. The majority of these Chinese shopkeepers, restaurant owners, and hired workers in San Francisco Chinatown were predominantly Hoisanese and male. Many Chinese found jobs working for large companies seeking a source of labor, most famously as part of the Central Pacific  on the Transcontinental Railroad. Other early immigrants worked as mine workers or independent prospectors hoping to strike it rich during the 1849 Gold Rush.

 

 

Merchant, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

Merchant, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

 

Woman house servant, San Francisco 1896-1906

Woman house servant, San Francisco 1896-1906

 

Jewish balloon man, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

Jewish balloon man, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

 

The shoe maker, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

The shoe maker, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

 

 

The sword dancer, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

The sword dancer, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

 

Boy standing on steps in front of a doorway, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

Boy standing on steps in front of a doorway, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

 

Carrying New Year's presents, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/agc.7a08978

Carrying New Year’s presents, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906 

 

After the fire, 1906 (the Fairmount Hotel in the distance), Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/agc.7a09001

After the fire, 1906 (the Fairmount Hotel in the distance), Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

 

His first cigar, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/agc.7a09011

His first cigar, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906 

 

Paying New Year's calls, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/agc.7a08987

Paying New Year’s calls, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906 

 

A holiday, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/agc.7a08988

A holiday, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906 

 

A slave girl in holiday attire, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

A slave girl in holiday attire, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

 

Two sheenies, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

Two sheenies, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

 

The toy peddler, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

The toy peddler, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

 

The Chinese Salvation Army, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

The Chinese Salvation Army, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

 

The street of the gamblers (by day), Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

The street of the gamblers (by day), Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

 

The paper gatherer, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/agc.7a09010

The paper gatherer, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

 

Five girls in holiday finery, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/agc.7a09036

Five girls in holiday finery, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906 

 

Woman and children walking down a street, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/agc.7a09023

Woman and children walking down a street, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906 

 

Little Plum Blossom, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

Little Plum Blossom, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

 

In front of the Joss House, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

In front of the Joss House, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

 

A picnic on Portsmouth Square, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

A picnic on Portsmouth Square, Chinatown, San Francisco 1896-1906

Chinatown has served as a backdrop for several movies, television shows, plays and documentaries including The Maltese Falcon, Big Trouble in Little China, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Presidio, Flower Drum Song, The Dead Pool, and Godzilla.Noted Chinese American writers grew up there such as Russell Leong, and Amy Tan whose experiences growing up in the neighborhood formed the basis of her book The Joy Luck Club and the subsequent film. Notable 1940s basketball player Willie “Woo Woo” Wong, who excelled in local schools, college and professional teams, was born in, and grew up playing basketball in, Chinatown; a local playground bears his name.Actor Bruce Lee, who was born at San Francisco Chinese Hospital before moving back to Hong Kong three months later, returned to the United States at the age of eighteen, residing in San Francisco’s Chinatown for the first few months before moving to Seattle

All photos by Library of Congres