Cal Day 2006: Archaeology in the community -- Rediscovering the Bay Area's Chinese Heritage: Oakland's San Pablo Avenue Chinatown
Community historians preserved the story of Oakland city fathers in the early 1860s naming an “official” Chinatown at Telegraph and 17th Street. In the following years, Edward Chew recorded, Chinese Oaklanders would be subjected to multiple dislocations.
By the mid-1860s, city fathers declared a new “official” Chinatown site, on San Pablo Avenue near what would become 20th Street.
After locating the new City Hall nearby, city leaders then targeted the San Pablo Avenue Chinatown for redevelopment. Chinatown residents were “consigned” to live elsewhere. While some called the Chinatown community a “plague-spot,” archaeological investigations of similar sites show such descriptions typically tell more about the people trying to acquire the property than about the residents themselves.
One hundred and twenty years after the destruction of the original Chinatown, a new redevelopment planned for the site made it urgent to be able to document this early community before its traces would be destroyed. Community members and Cal Berkeley researchers worked together to activate legal protections for archaeological sites and piece together the stories of these early Oaklanders.
Oaklander Edward Chew, here in his WWI officer’s uniform, shared the story of the San Pablo Avenue Chinatown during Oakland’s centennial in 1952. His father was the pioneering Bay Area newspaperman and civil rights activist, Reverend Ng Poon Chew.
After the 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed San Francisco Chinatown, many San Franciscans relocated to Oakland.
Wong Yow and W. Kai Wong reestablished their merchant tailoring busi- ness, Hing Chong & Co., at 1966 San Pablo Avenue. They contributed to a thriving Chinese garment district created on the very spot of the early Chinatown.
Then Cal Berkeley senior Kelly Fong documents the exis- tence of the San Pablo Avenue Chinatown in the census and old tax records (right).
Hearing news of the 150-year Chinese heritage of the San Pablo Avenue area, Carol Chong (below) brought forward her family’s chapter.
Carol Chong stands outside the building where she was born, 1966 San Pablo Avenue. Her father immigrated from Toishan, China. Her parents ran a laundry downstairs and made a home upstairs. The photo shows Carol Chong and her siblings in their backyard garden.
Historic photos, maps, archaeology, and personal stories from the site available at UptownChinatown.org