Each morning when I arrive in China Alley and every evening when I leave, I am reminded that in the past our neighborhood wasn’t comprised of just Chinatown. My morning and evening ritual includes a nod to great-grandfather’s upstairs China Alley noodle house, another nod to my grandfather’s Chinese Pagoda and a mental kiss blown to my family’s old Imperial Dynasty restaurant. In addition, my routine includes an acknowledgement of the area of the Imperial Dynasty parking lot, where my maternal grandparents taught English to the Chinese citizens in a place called The Mission, right across the street of another grande dame of a building I pay homage to — the Kings Hand Laundry Building, which was built by the Tagawa family in 1911.
This building is not only another reminder of the power of place and sense of home, but also of the sizeable Japanese population that was part of our neighborhood. Earlier editions of the Hanford Sentinel and Hanford Journal refer to this area as “The Oriental Quarter.” The National Park Service’s web site has a list of historic sites dedicated to the “History of Japanese in California.” The Kings Hand Laundry building is included on the list.
Sakutaro (George) and Tazu Tagawa immigrated to Hanford from Japan in the early 1900s. They worked at the Vendome hotel for years, finally saving up enough money to purchase property and start their own boarding house. The Tagawas were able to purchase five land parcels for one gold coin worth $600. Carpenters helped to construct the laundry building, although the original barn was already there and when the property was purchased, there were horses galloping around.
Tazu grew tired of cooking for the boarding house, and the building was converted into a laundry in 1916. The Koda family, who owned a laundry in Coalinga and grew rice in Dos Palos, helped the Tagawas learn the ropes of the laundry business.
Their daughter, our dear friend (and a beautiful grande dame herself) Naomi, took over the business in 1962 and continued to work well into her nineties. Officially retired last year, she can map out all the former businesses that were once located in Hanford’s “Oriental Quarter.”
The Tagawa family was among the hundreds of Hanfordites of Japanese decent who were interred after the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941. Naomi has shared her experiences in the internment camp in numerous lectures, and conversations. She always mentions how fortunate her family was and how grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Powell for watching over and taking care of the Tagawa family home and business property while they were interred. I share their gratitude.
After their release from the camps, many returned home only find their properties and businesses stripped bare. This has made me wonder about some of our other iconic buildings and businesses that were owned by Japanese Americans. Who helped to watch over their properties? Several of the property owners’ descendants I call “friends,” so I made a mental note to ask them the next time I saw them.
When I asked Donna Inaba Kuntz and Ed Funahashi about their grandparents’ Star Café restaurant, neither one knew who had been the “watcher.” Donna’s first comment was, “ I was just wondering about that myself!”
A few weeks ago Ats and Maureen (Mizote) Fukuda visited the Tea Room. I stopped by their table and asked Maureen about her father’s Sunset Garage, while pointing in the direction of the business’s original location (across from the original L.T Sue Herb Co. building). With a sigh, Maureen responded, “I have no idea. I never asked. But at that time, there was a strong sense of community.”
So as of late, as I perform my morning and evening rituals, when I reach the Kings Hand Laundry building, it represents more than the history of the “Oriental Quarter” to me. That grande dame of a building signifies and exemplifies acts of compassion, kindness and the sense of community that remind me of the John Lennon song, “Imagine.” So that is what I am doing now, even as I write, imagining for all us in the new year acts of compassion for each other, kindness among us all, and the feeling of community that can nourish and sustain our multi-cultural town and valley, all of our pasts, presents and futures.
My friend, Maureen, is quite the innovative, creative and likes to have fun in the kitchen cook. She’s also a great seamstress. Maureen made me one of my favorite aprons that I wear at home – yes, at home I am an apron wearer. I love this particular apron because it has pockets and I don’t feel like my neck is roped up…Oh, I digress. Maureen is also a generous recipe sharer. She gave me a recipe that Nancy Sakata shared with her. Now in honor of the spirit of the sense of community, I would like to share with you their easy, snip snap recipe for fried teriyaki chicken.