For this week’s journalistic tour through the five buildings that once housed my family’s Chinese Pagoda and Imperial Dynasty restaurants, we begin in China Alley and walk inward from the west end of the Alley at Green Street. We stop in front of the third two-story building on the north side of the Alley. The address to this building is #6 China Alley. Lets go inside.
We walk through the gated foyer to the Imperial Dynasty main entrance and turn to the right. We push the door open and make an immediate left and walk past the first dining room on our right and continue to the adjacent dining room. This was the restaurant’s main dining room. It looks very much the same as it did when the restaurant closed in 2006, though, while a few pieces remain, the textured dark wooden walls are bare of most of the art work that then enlivened the room. The eleven tangerine sherbet colored booths that line the north, east, and south walls are still in place along with the eight two-tops remaining in the center of the dining room. Large lanterns hang from the tall, pagoda-style wooden ceiling, a large tapestry covered lamp at the center. Calligraphied covered lamps are suspended above the booths.
So much of my life occurred in this room, and I am sure many of you have your own reminiscences of being in this magical room. Building #6 has a plethora of its own memories, I’m sure, as a Sanborn map shows it existed as far back as 1892.
This building housed the Sun Lung Jan. I’m not sure when Sun Lung Jan opened, but I do know it existed prior to 1913 as I have seen the name listed in the International Chinese Business Directory published that year. Owned by Gong Guy, the Sun Lung Jan establishment was commonly recognized as a Chinese general merchandise store; there were also thriving gambling rooms in the rear as well as in the basement.
Recently I came across a Hanford Sentinel article dated January 17, 1907 that reported an occurrence in this building. There are a couple of words in the article I find offensive and racist, but that is how the citizens of Hanford’s “Oriental Quarter” were described for decades. I did not write out the article in its entirety, I wanted to write the offensive words once, so I cut things a bit short.
These days it seems this adage often rings true – the more things change, the more things stay the same. Here is what was written:
“No. 6 China Alley in Chinatown was the scene of considerable excitement Tuesday night when a game of fan tan was interrupted by the entrance of City Marshal Frederick and Nightwatchman Hicks, who discovered four Chinamen and one Jap engaged in the fascinating pastime and arrested the bunch. The raid had not been planned beforehand, but the officers, who were on their customary rounds, saw that time was opportune for catching the gamesters in the act and so, acted accordingly.
“The way to the place led through a narrow alley, and there were three doors leading to the room where the game was in progress, the first two of which were guarded by a look out, while the third door, or the one opening into the room, was manipulated by the player known as the banker, sitting at the table. The lookout at the first door was caught off his guard, and the officers rushed him toward the second door, which was slammed in their faces, but before it could be fastened the officers threw themselves against it and it was forced open, and at the third door the same resistance was made, but resistance was in vain and the officers were among the players.
“One of the men at the table escaped through a back door and one of the guards succeeded in getting beyond the officers’ reach, but as stated above the five men were captured, together with the fan tan layout and upwards of $400 in money.”
Sun Lung Jan had been located directly below Mee Jan Low, Great-grandfather’s noodle house. I sense his spirit could tell me a tale or two about what went on downstairs. Sun Lung Jan most likely closed in the late 1940s or early 1950s when Chinatown began to fade away.
Let’s return to the Alley. At the front of Building #6, there isn’t any visible evidence of Sun Lung Jan. When my family acquired the building in the 1950s and constructed the Imperial Dynasty, Sun Lung Jan’s entrance was covered with redwood. In the 1980s, as I have mentioned before, Uncle Richard went through a “brick phase” and during that time redwood was bricked over. Sun Lung Jan’s history lies behind those bricks, behind the original redwood.
Our garden is rife with tomatoes. Perhaps yours are too. I was looking for a recipe to stuff some of the larger ones and came across one of Chrissy Teigen’s that are stuffed with rice, broccoli, cheese and chorizo. I used brown rice; I will try it next time with barley or Israeli couscous.
Arianne Wing is the co-author of “Noodles Through Escargots,” and co-owner of the L.T. Sue Co. Tea Room and Emporium, benefiting the restoration and preservation of China Alley. She may be reached at email@example.com
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