With the exodus of the Chinese from Hanford following World War II, many of the old buildings in Chinatown deteriorated, eventually collapsed and/or were torn down. All that remains of what was once a lively Chinatown are the buildings that front China Alley and the Chinese school a block away (currently home to the Temple Theatre).
In the 1960s, my family purchased many of the buildings on China Alley in an effort to save them from bulldozers. They hoped to recreate a vibrancy that would compliment their Chinese Pagoda and Imperial Dynasty restaurants. They had their dreams.
Long ago, my family affectionately dubbed Uncle Richard “the dreamer,” and that moniker followed him throughout his life. For instance, in his 2007 interview with Susie Ling for the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California’s Gum Saan Journal, Ling wrote in her introduction: “Richard was genetically born with another trait. He was a dreamer. He dreamed up the design for the Imperial Dynasty. He dreamed his creative dishes. He dreamed in his success.”
Near the end of the interview, Uncle Richard said, “ I love inventing new food concepts. I am always thinking about something and I am a dreamer. I seldom get bored. I dream of new recipes and new ideas.”
During the winter of 1969, a vacant herb store in China Alley was destroyed in a fire. Fortunately it did not touch any other structure in the Alley. If it had, Uncle Richard’s dream, his “Master Plan,” would have been obliterated.
He had big dreams for the Alley back then. In his Master Plan, Uncle Richard envisioned a walled-in city within the city of Hanford, complete with housing and shops, all exhibiting Chinese architecture, landscaping, and interior design.
I remember from my growing-up years hearing bits and pieces of the Master Plan. I heard Uncle Richard “dreaming” with Mom and Dad. Sometimes I overheard conversations he had with restaurant patrons as he animatedly described his Great Wall and all of its surroundings. Often a rough sketch of his dream accompanied those conversations.
Decades passed. The Master Plan remained nothing but a dream.
In recent columns I’ve written about sorting, cataloging, and shredding Mom’s paperwork collected from her volunteer work with numerous organizations. I think she saved every document from every meeting she ever attended. It’s a lot of paperwork, a lot of boxes. But I haven’t written about the boxes of paperwork belonging to Uncle Richard and those belonging to Auntie Harriet that Steve and I inherited when we acquired my family’s remaining properties on China Alley. Yes, I have many, many boxes, and mounds of paperwork.
The other day I was perusing a small file that belonged to Uncle Richard. He had made some notes on the five buildings that encompassed the Chinese Pagoda and Imperial Dynasty restaurants. I flipped through the pages. Then, lo and behold, there was a rough draft of Uncle Richard’s dream, his Chinatown Master Plan.
He had recreated his Master Plan in January 2006 — just one month before the curtain came down on the Imperial Dynasty. He was still dreaming!
In the next file I found a copy of a Hanford Sentinel interview with Uncle Richard published on Feb. 28, 1970. He spoke of the of the upcoming Imperial Dynasty remodel in which the dining area would be enlarged and a new cocktail lounge would be constructed next door in the old Sue Chung Kee mercantile store. He spoke of the redevelopment efforts of our family over the previous dozen years, including the Imperial Dynasty restaurant and offices. “We’ve built a monument. I hope the next generation has some sense enough to keep up the place.”
Yes, Uncle Richard, we do. Steve and I have dreams too.
Some days we want to create a dreamy dinner in a dreamy dining space, other times we dream of something we can get on the table. In our more extravagant moments, we dream the dream of a revitalized China Alley, of a bright city within a city. We dream of the Taoist Temple Museum fully restored along with as many treasures as possible. We dream of recipes enjoyed in restaurants that celebrate them. This week I’m sharing one of my favorite back pocket pantry recipes, linguine and clams. While I love fresh clams, canned clams are one of my kitchen staples. This recipe has lemon for brightness and swirl of butter for a silky sauce, and comes together easily. Enjoy.