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Old Posted Sep 26, 2011, 4:22 PM
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San Francisco: Chinatown

Chinatown is a neighborhood west of San Francisco's Financial District. The neighborhood is roughly bounded by Bush Street to the south, Powell Street to the west, Broadway to the north, and Kearny Street to the east. San Francisco's Chinatown is the oldest, largest, and arguably the most famous Chinese enclave in the United States, and maybe in all of the world outside of Asia.

Chinatown was first settled by the Chinese in the 1850s, when 30,000 emigrated over from Guangdong Province to participate in the Gold Rush. Many settled in this area uphill from Portsmouth Square, where the city was begun in the previous decade. More Chinese men came over in the 1860s and 1870s to build the railroads in California. With so many Chinese on the West Coast, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed by Congress in 1882 to prevent more immigration. Other laws limiting the freedoms of Chinese effectively pushed these men into one 12-block area that became the center of the neighborhood.

Like other parts of the city, Chinatown was almost completely destroyed by the Earthquake of 1906. After the earthquake, city officials planned on moving Chinatown to Hunter's Point, and having the now-desirable land be open for Whites to build on. The Chinese resisted, and built feverishly in the same spot to preserve their area. Many buildings at this time used

Over time, laws that forced the Chinese to live in Chinatown, prevented men from bringing over their wives, or prohibited the emigration of more Chinese, were relaxed and lifted. Chinese Americans now have the ability to move about freely in the country like anyone else, many have left for integrated neighborhoods and suburbs. Now, only the elderly and poor live here. Neighborhood businesses that catered almost exclusively to other Chinese now have given way to tourism. The tourist industry is so successful that the neighborhood has almost become a parody of itself. Still, Chinatown flourishes and remains one of San Francisco's most recognized landmarks.


The Dragon Gate, over Grant Avenue at its interscetion with Bush Street.



The gateway arch was built in 1970 and marks the southern boundary of Chinatown.



Businesses on Grant Avenue.



St. Mary's Square, from Pine Street. The square's current configuration was completed in 1964 when it was built on top of a parking garage, and the square is used throughout the year as one of the neighborhood's places to gather and host special events.



Businesses on Grant Avenue.



The Sing Chong Bazaar, meaning "living prosperity", on the northwest corner of Grant Avenue & California Street.



The Sing Chong building was built in 1910 and helped lead the way in use of Chinese architecture in the neighborhood.



The Sing Fat Bazaar, on the southwest corner of Grant Avenue & California Street. The bazaar, which means "living riches", was built in 1910.



St. Mary's Church, on California Street at Grant Avenue. The church was built in 1854 and was San Francisco's first Catholic cathedral. St. Mary's served as the cathedral for the Diocese of San Francisco until 1894.



Restaurants on Grant Avenue.



A Bank of America branch, at Grant Avenue & Sacramento Street. The structure was built in 1906. The branch uses traditional Chinese architecture in its design. Above the bank branch is the Gold Mountain Monastery.



Buildings on Sacramento Street. The Yeong Wo Building, built in 1928 for the Yeong Wo Benevolent Association, is to the right of center.



Businesses on Grant Avenue.



Buildings on Commercial Street, with the Financial District in the background.



The Shanghai Bazaar, on Grant Avenue. The structure was built in 1920.



A building on Grant Avenue at Clay Street, built in 1907.



Looking down Waverly Place. Despite being only two blocks long, several Buddhist temples are located on the alleyway.



Waverly Place was known as "the street of painted balconies" for its many balconies that give the alley a dense look that could be found throughout China.



Buildings on Clay Street at Waverly Place.



Looking up the narrow Spofford Alley.



The Kong Chow Temple and Benevolent Association, on Stockton Street at Clay Street. The temple was founded in 1851 and moved to this location in 1977. Barely visible on the left is the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association building. The group, informally known as the Chinese Six Companies, was formed in 1882 to help conduct business with non-Chinese.



Buildings on Stockton Street. On the left is the Hop Wo Benevolent Association Building, built in 1908. On the right is the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown, the oldest Asian American Christian congregation in the United States, built in 1907.



The Chinese United Methodist Church, at Stockton & Washington Streets. The church was established in 1873.



Businesses on Washington Street, from Stockton Street.



Signs in Chinese hang from just about every building, giving a look similar to that of a crowded street in one of China's major cities.



Buildings on Washington Street.



Many buildings in Chinatown have Chinese writing on tablets near the doorways. This tablet, for instance, thanks a Hong Kong businessman for raising money in his city to purchase the building and then give for use as a hospital.



Many restaurants also have ducks hanging in the windows, to showcase the food available.



Chinatown architecture on Washington Street. On the left is the Sam Wo Restaurant, established in 1907 and the narrowest restaurant in the neighborhood.



The EastWest Bank branch, on Washington Street. The bank was originally the China Telephone Exchange and was built in 1909. The telephone exchange is the oldest Asian ediface in the neighborhood and helped set the tone for Chinatown's architecture after the 1906 earthquake.



One of the many Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, this one on Washington Street.



Portsmouth Square, located along Kearny Street between Washington & Sacramento Streets.



Portsmouth Square was the site where Yerba Buena, later renamed San Francisco, was started in 1846. It was here that Capt. John B. Montgomery of the USS Portsmouth raised the U.S. flag near the Mexican custom house. In 1848, the announcement of gold was made here, beginning the Gold Rush.

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Old Posted Sep 26, 2011, 9:02 PM
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Nice tour. A favorite point of interest is the sign under the clock on St. Mary's, which says: "Son, Observe the Time and Fly from Evil." Always get a chuckle looking at that.
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Old Posted Sep 26, 2011, 9:12 PM
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Great photos. I've been to the Sam Wo restaurant several times and it is a must-visit place in San Francisco. Not only is it very narrow but the ceilings are also about seven feet tall. The meals are excellent and very affordable (my girlfriend and I had lunch for about $15 for both of us when we visited a few years ago).
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Old Posted Sep 27, 2011, 8:41 PM
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Great tour of a special place. Thanks.
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Old Posted Sep 27, 2011, 11:47 PM
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San Francisco has the highest number of Chinese people in all of the USA

I believe it's around 200.000 ?
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