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Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ) - September 19, 2004
Author: William Hermann, The Arizona Republic
Anyone wondering whether downtown Phoenix is becoming a better place need only remember when the Deuce , a squalid conglomeration of warehouses, flophouses, cheap bars and ratty liquor stores, occupied much of the area between Monroe and Buchanan, Second to Fifth streets.

Harlan Lee remembers, because in the middle of that was, improbably, one of downtown 's most popular restaurants, Sing High Chop Suey House, which his grandparents and parents owned. Harlan remembers the violence of the area only too well. One night in 1966, while he was standing in the doorway of the restaurant, he was shot.

"It was past 1 a.m. and we were closed and I guess the guy in the back of the passing car was mad 'cause they couldn't come in; anyway, he shot me," Harlan said. "I still have the bullet inside me, between my aorta and spine."

Harlan, 11 at the time, was working late because in the Lee family everyone worked long hours at the restaurant.

Grandfather Fred Lee, who had come to Phoenix from China in 1927, opened the restaurant the next year. He wanted it to be named Shanghai, but spoke and read little English and when the sign painter returned a sign that said "Sing High," Fred didn't know the difference.

Harlan's father and mother Kai and Anna Lee worked there tirelessly and so did Harlan and his brother.

"It was grueling," Harlan said. "My parents worked terrible hours. And tried to deal with losing three of my brothers to a blood disease. They were incredible."

Incredible enough to create a restaurant that became a popular downtown attraction.

"When the Phoenix Suns started up as a team, they came in all the time; still do," Harlan said. "Jerry Colangelo was a regular, Connie Hawkins, Alvin Adams and (NBA referee) Tommy Nunez was a regular."

So were politicians like Governors Sam Goddard (and son Terry Goddard), Bruce Babbitt, Rose Mofford and Raul Castro.

But in the late 1970s and early '80s, the Deuce was demolished to make way for new hotels and for expansion of the Civic Plaza. Sing High moved from Third and Madison streets to First Avenue and Madison Street.

Harlan now divides management of the restaurant with wife Karleen Lee. Kai Lee died several years ago, but Anna Lee still comes in to manage on weekends.

"One thing that made the move possible, and makes all the work worthwhile, has been the loyalty of our customers," Harlan said.

Legal cowboy

We heard that Valley attorney Leon Bess, founder of the Phoenix firm Bess Kunz, is retiring, so we gave him a call.

Bess, 67, is one of those transplanted Easterners who took to the legend of the West -- cowboys, horses, boots and saddles -- like it had been in their blood all their lives.

Bess, who grew up in Detroit, says he was from a home of very limited means and a huge treat was the Thanksgiving Day Parade where he would stare fascinated at mounted police platoons.

"I'd dream of having one of those horses one day," Bess said. "I'd dream of living in the West."

After putting himself through college and law school and getting married, he moved his family to Phoenix in 1970. And between work and family, began to go on trail rides.

Success in law meant the ability to buy horses and to ride in about 30 Fiesta Bowl parades, three Rose Bowl Parades and buy a ranch near the Usery Mountains in Mesa.

Bess lives there now, riding every day, breeding Morgan horses, and being thankful, that, "though I very much miss my late wife, I have my lovely daughters, eight grandchildren, my dogs and my horses.

"I have more than I should have."

Submit items to or mail to Local People, c/o The Arizona Republic, 200 E. Van Buren St., Phoenix, AZ 85004.
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