Chinese history in Sacramento is a story of gradual growth, dedicated laborers, family values and overcoming adversities. And the perseverance of earlier generations of the city’s Chinese led to their integration and increased acceptance into the mainstream society.
As mentioned in the latter portion of the last article of this series, Lincoln School at 4th and Q streets provided a formal education for children in Chinatown and other places in that vicinity.
Some local Chinese children attended McKinley School at 705 G St. and William Land Elementary School at 1116 U St.
These students continued their education at the old Sutter Junior High School and Sacramento High School. And some Chinese students attended C.K. McClatchy High School, which opened in 1937.
In addition to becoming students at the general public schools, Chinese children were also educated in Chinese language schools on weekday evenings and on Saturdays.
Besides Chinese laundries, which were also mentioned in the last article of this series, other common businesses in the early days of Sacramento’s Chinatown were restaurants and grocery stores.
Many longtime Sacramentans recall the now defunct Hong King Lum restaurant, which was located at 304 I St. in its early years and relocated to 415 J St. in 1969.
A 1934 advertisement for the restaurant reads: “Hong King Lum Café, dine and dance, no cover charge, we serve a real Chinese full-course dinner, 304 Eye (Street), cor. 3rd (Street), MAIN 1841.”
Among the Chinese restaurants in Sacramento during the 19th century were eateries on I Street, between 2nd and 3rd streets; 104 I St., between 4th and 5th streets; on the south side of I Street, between 5th and 6th streets; in the brick building on the north side of I Street, between 6th and 7th streets; on J Street, near 12th Street; on the east side of 3rd Street, between I and J streets; and on 6th Street, between J and K streets.
Certainly, the opening of Chinese grocery stores in Chinatown proved to be the beginnings of much greater operations, as the existence of those small stores led to the opening of Chinese-owned, post-World War II supermarkets such as Bel Air, Farmers Market, Jumbo Market and Giant Foods.
Today, only one of those supermarkets’ histories continues, as locals can still shop at locations of Bel Air, which was acquired by Raley’s from the Wong family in 1992.
The roots of the store began in the 1930s, when Chinese immigrant Gim Wong, who came to America in 1916 and eventually helped his family establish Bel Air, began selling produce that he grew on his 5-acre farm in Penryn, about 30 miles east of Sacramento. Assisting him with his business was his wife, Lee Shee Wong, and their children.
The first Bel Air Market opened at 6231 Fruitridge Road in 1955.
Another very successful Chinese owned business founded in Sacramento is the General Produce Co., which began its operations in 1933 and continues its existence in the capital city today. The business was founded by Chan Tai Oy, who immigrated to Sacramento from Canton, China in the early 1900s.
A significant moment in local Chinese history occurred in the 1950s, when the city’s Chinese were granted the legal right to purchase homes in Land Park.
In 1959, the Confucius Temple was constructed at the southeast corner of 4th and I streets.
The three-story building, which was a $500,000 project of the Chinese Benevolent Association, was constructed as a center for worship, social activities and education, and includes classrooms, a gymnasium and other features.
During 1960s, a major urban redevelopment project called for the demolition of old Chinese buildings on I Street, marking an end to the city’s historic Chinatown.
That project was followed by the Sacramento Redevelopment Agency’s establishment of Chinatown Mall, which is located between 3rd, 5th, I and J streets.
The mall became home to such places as some Chinese associations, a bank and a hotel.
Additionally, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall at 415 Chinatown Mall was opened on June 6, 1971. A statue in Sun’s likeness stands in front of the structure.
Sun (1866-1925), who once visited Sacramento, was known for leading the Chinese revolution to overthrow the Manchu monarchy in 1911.
The Wong Center senior citizen, low income apartment building opened in Chinatown Mall in 1973.
Although Sacramento’s historic Chinatown is a thing of the past, the mall is both a reminder of that past and a treasure for present and future generations.