CHINATOWN HISTORIC LANDMARKS
1. Gateway to Chinatown (Bush & Grant)
This gateway marks the entrance into Chinatown. The plaque in the middle is a replica of Dr Sun Yet Sen.’s proclamation when he overthrew the corrupt monarchy and founded a democratic republic. The four Chinese characters are translated: “All that is under heaven belongs to the people.” The remaining 4 characters on each side are the Confucian values of loyalty and compassion: on the left, for integrity, on the right, for peace.
2. Sing Chong Building (California & Grant)
The famous California cable car route is flanked on each side of the street at Grant Avenue by two prominent Chinatown landmarks: the Sing Chong Building and the Sing Fat Building. These buildings, the first structures to be rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake, are fine examples of neo-Chinese architecture.
3. Old Saint Mary (California & Grant)
Old Saint Mary's Church, built in 1854, was the first cathedral in the Western United States. Under the prominent clock face are the words, "Son Observe the Time and Fly from Evil". This message targeted men who frequented the surrounding brothels in the 1850's.
4. Waverly Place (Clay between Grant & Stockton)
Waverly Place is known for its colorfully painted balconies and distinctive temples. This street has numerous buildings with unique architecture that house the headquarters of Chinatown’s family associations, historical benevolent associations, and famous trade associations. Tin Hau Temple, the oldest temple in the United States, is located on this unusual alley.
5. Fortune Cookie Factory (56 Ross Alley)
This factory opened in 1962 and remains the only one where cookies are still made by hand. The funny thing is, fortune cookies were actually the invention of a Japanese immigrant named Makoto Hagiwara who designed the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco. He went through a difficult time in his life and in 1914 after things improved, he created a cookie with a “thank you” note inside of it to pass out to all of the people who stood by his side during his trials. In 1915 the fortune cookie was featured at the World Fair in Treasure Island. (The fortune cookie was not introduced to China until 1990 and were amusingly advertised as “Genuine American Fortune Cookies”).
6. Chinese Telephone Exchange (743 Washington St.)
Built in 1891, this building served as the first Chinese telephone exchange in the entire United States. No telephones numbers were used. Instead, the operators there were required to speak five dialects of Chinese and to know the number of each subscriber and their respective voices by heart. Eclipsed by modern rotary phone technology, the operation closed in 1949, and currently houses United Commercial Bank. This historic location is also one of several stops that are made as part of the must-experience Chinatown Ghost Tour.
7. Cameron House (920 Sacramento Street)
Originally opened in 1874 as the “Occidental Mission Home for Girls,” it was later renamed Cameron House for its director Donaldina Cameron who dedicated 47 years of her life to rescuing young girls who were sold into slavery and prostitution.
8. Cable Car Barn & Museum (Mason & Washington)
Built in 1873, this is the oldest continuously operating Cable Car barn in the world. The cables inside of this building control a network of cables that run throughout the city to which cable cars clam onto in order to be pulled up and down the steep hills of San Francisco. It has been in operation since the days of the Gold Rush. Admission is free, but small donations are appreciated to help keep the premises open and operating.
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