Friday, January 4, 2008

Grant Street, Chinatown

I'm not often in San Francisco's official Chinatown, which swarms with packs of gawking tourists from the midwest on the best of days. I prefer Clement Street or Irving near 19th for my chinatown fix. (which, oddly enough, usually involves Vietnamese food, not Chinese...) Anyway, as a young child, I remember my mom loved to take us to Chinatown, where I would be shoved aside by mean old Chinese ladies trying to buy the freshest vegetables at various green-grocers on Stockton, and inevitably rewarded with some cheesy tchotke (a "jade" horse figurine is strongly embedded in my memory) purchased at some sort of "showroom of the oriental arts" or something on Grant Street.

As one would assume, Chinatown has a lot of interesting history. In 1906, after the earthquake/fire, the SF goverment, in a valorous showing of both racism AND greed (oh, they go hand in hand!) tried to keep the Chinese from coming back to Chinatown, because the rich white people wanted the real estate for themselves. So the Chinese community had to make some concessions, one of them being that they would make Chinatown more tourist-friendly, and more "Chinese" looking. So that's why a lot of the buildings in Chinatown have a little oriental flare to them - it was to placate the white populous and make Chinatown more "cute", and, I assume, less of an opium den.

Anyway, here are some photos I took the other day of old signs and stuff on Grant Ave.

The Buddha Bar on Grant &... something. Obviously, I wasn't paying close attention to street signs. I wonder how old the street lights are here?

"The Art Co" sign. I wonder what it was like down here before everything was a goddamned souvenir store.

Old Signs for souvenir shops.

Some really cute deco tilework on storefronts... It's kinda amazing to me how much tilework like this there is in SF.

Eastern Bakery sign.

The amazing thing is, this place is STILL a drug store.

Looking down Grant towards Bush St.

Looking down Grant towards Columbus St.

You know the Chinatown Gate on Grant and Bush? It's ugly, you know, and has, like, dragons on it? Anyway, apparently when they put that up, the committe in charge of it had a choice between building a new library or putting up that gate. Just so you know where everyones priorities lie. sigh. Oh, and apparently the gate is wrong, the animals on it are in the wrong place or something. heh.


Em said...

Yes the male and female lions at the bush gate are on the wrong sides from what I remember. Either that or they are both male. Which must mean they are gay.

I must also add, as your official C-town tour guide, that Ross Alley was the opium den street of all the streets in Chinatown. As I say on the tour, a den of iniquity. There were brothels and gambling houses aplenty there. And now there's the fortune cookie factory and a CHRISTIAN MISSION.



PS Also I wish the Forbidden City nite club was still around. You should do a post on that. There's this great documentary on it that came out in the early 90's that my mom recorded off KQED. I was watching it a while back. Next time you're in SF we should watch it.

Julia said...

I think Maud's godparents knew the guy who mced at Forbidden City- that's why they have such an amazing collection of wigs. They were involved with that documentary some how too.