Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Locke, California

Portions are taken from http://www.locketown.com/  http://www.lockeca.com/  See their website for more details, picture and updates.
     Locke was founded in 1915 after a fire broke out in the Chinese section of nearby Walnut Grove. The Chinese who lived in that area decided that it was time to establish a town of their own. A committee of Chinese merchants, led by Lee Bing, Chan Hing Sai, Tom Wai, Chan Dai Kee, Ng So Hat, Chan Wai Lum, Chow Hou Bun, and Suen Dat Suin was formed. They approached land owner George Locke and inquired if they could build on his land. An agreement was reached. The town was laid out by Chinese architects and industrious building ensued. The founding of Lockeport, later 'Locke', was a reality. By 1920 Locke stood essentially as you see it now.
     Levee construction originally brought the Chinese to this area, but by the time Locke was built most of the work was in farm labor. Locke had many businesses that catered to the farm workers and residents of this region. In the 1940's restaurants, bakeries, herb shops, fish markets, gambling halls, boarding houses, brothels, grocery stores, a school, clothing stores, and the Star Theatre lined the bustling streets of Locke. At its peak 600 residents, and as many as 1500 people occupied the town of Locke.
     On August 2, 1970, Locke was added to the registry of national historical places, by the Sacramento County Historical Society, because of its unique status as the only town in the United States built exclusively by the Chinese for the Chinese.
     Locke is no tourist trap, nor is it a ghost town. Its unusual, out-of-the-way charm is genuine. Perhaps it is this authenticity, without any hypocritical overtones, which brings so many out of town visitors to its doors.
Currently, there are between 70 to 80 people live in Locke. Chinese population is down to about ten.

Chinese have been in the Delta at least since the 1860s. As in most of the West, the Delta's Chinese population was made up of two separate groups who had emigrated from neighboring districts in Guangdong Province in southeastern China. One group came from Sze Yap, and the other from Chungshan district.        
    Chinese have been in the Delta at least since the 1860s. As in most of the West, the Delta's Chinese population was made up of two separate groups who had emigrated from neighboring districts in Guangdong Province in southeastern China. One group came from Sze Yap, and the other from Chungshan district.
    The California state legislature passed the Swamp and Overflow Act of 1861 to encourage levee building for reclamation purposes. Subsequently, between three to four thousand Chinese laborers came to the Delta under contract to American developers built hundreds of miles of levees. Their task was arduous, requiring them to work in waist-deep water in an area which malaria was still endemic. They cut drainage ditches, built floodgates, and slowly piled up small levees. In this fashion, between 1860 to 1880 a total of 88,000 acres was reclaimed from the Delta marshlands.
    Once the land became fit for agriculture, Chinese remained in the Delta to become farm workers and tenant farmers.
More History                           
    In 1915, both the Chungshan and Sze Yap sections of Walnut Grove's Chinatown burned to the ground. After years of less than peaceful coexistence, rather than rebuild in Walnut Grove, the Chungshan group moved out and  later built themselves a town on land leased from the family of a land owner named George Locke.
    The Chinese can only leased the land to build the town because the state law forbade the Chinese immigrants to purchase land. Under terms of California's 1913 Alien Land Act, Chinese were not allowed to own land. The law was not declared unconstitutional until 1952.
    Originally the town was called Lockeport, the name was later shortened to Locke. The non-English-speaking Chinese began calling it 'Lockee', and still do today.
    Tin-san Chan and two other Chinese merchants leased and built the first three buildings in George Locke's property in 1912. They consist of a boarding house, a gambling parlor, and a saloon. The buildings are located at the south end of town, where the former saloon is now   the Locke Garden Restaurant.
    After an accidental fire led to the complete destruction of Walnut Grove's Chinatown in 1915, a group of Chungshan merchants headed by Bing Lee, financed the construction of some nine residential houses and opened his own general merchandise store in the new town they called Locke.
    The asparagus boom was in full flower by 1920 in the Delta, more and more houses and businesses catering to the Chungshan workers in the asparagus field were being built in Locke.  In 1925, Southern Pacific enlarged the packing shed across the street from Locke, consequently , Locke expanded even more rapidly. More than 600 Chinese were believed to live in town.
    Throughout the 1920s illicit amusement quarter began developed in town which included gambling parlors, speakeasies, a few opium dens, and several houses of prostitution. The gambling parlors, speakeasies and opium dens were owned and operated by Chinese. The prostitution business were owned, operated, and staffed by whites. There were no Chinese prostitutes in Locke because of the respectable Chinese families in town.
    Locke was a lively place in the 1920s. It had a Chinese owned movie theater called Star Theater which showed silent black and white films. A Chinese herbalist dispensed medicine and medical advice. There were six restaurants, nine grocery stores, a flour mill, a hotel, and numerous boarding houses.
    A gradual decline in the Delta's Chinese population began after World War II, and population decline became more rapid in the 1950s as more and more young Chinese Americans became better educated than their parents, they rarely stayed in agricultural districts. When the state government closed down all gambling business in town, merchants started to move out, and population in town decline even faster.

The entire town of  Locke is a historical site.  Special places to visit or see include:

·         Locke Boarding House Visitors’ Center

An exhibit and research facility open to the public free of charge.
·         Locke Chinese School
A language school for the children of Locke established in 1926.
·         Locke Memorial Park and Monument
Dedicated to the Chinese who built the railroad, levees, and agriculture of California and the town of Locke.
·         Al the Wop’s Saloon and Restaurant
Early operation included a brothel.
·         Star Theater
Past enterprises included Chinese opera, gambling den, and brothel.
·         Dai Loy Museum
An exhibit of Chinese gambling paraphernalia.
·         Lockeport Hotel
The first building in Locke.
·         Locke Garden Restaurant
Chinese restaurant that at one time housed Locke’s first saloon and gambling hall.
·         Connie’s Toilet Garden
A collection of planters made from discarded toilets of past Chinese residents.
·         Locke Community Garden
Established during World War II as a victory garden.

 http://www.lockeca.com/    http://www.locketown.com/


Locke, Sacramento County
This predominantly Chinese American community contains four blocks of one- and two-story frame commercial and residential structures. Many buildings are located along the levee of the Sacramento River, with second-floor porches and loading sheds along the top of the levee. In addition to the buildings, the communal vegetable garden is an integral part of the community.
The buildings date from three distinct periods. The earliest are those built in 1912: the Tules restaurant building, the building across from the Tules on Levee Street, and the building across from the Tules on Main Street.
The second group of buildings was constructed between 1915 and 1919: the Town Hall and six other buildings built by Bing Lee on Main Street — a restaurant, boarding house, two gambling houses, a dry goods store, and a hardware store.
The third group of buildings was built between 1920 and 1933: the Southern Pacific packing shed and dock, the Star Theater, the soda fountain and grocery store run by Robert Suen, the Locke Christian Center, the post office, single story residences on Key Street, Al Adam's restaurant, the gas station, and other buildings.
Locke is unique in that the town was built by Chinese Americans for Chinese Americans; its population is still largely Chinese American. Its isolation is the result of various alien land laws that prevented early Chinese immigrants and other aliens ineligible for citizenship from owning land in California, and discouraged them from trying to establish permanent communities. They were allowed to live where no one else wanted to be, and were required to move whenever the owner of the land wanted it for other purposes. Chinese Americans were permitted to establish communities in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta area because their labor and services were essential for draining swamps, building levees, and growing crops.
The predecessor of the town of Locke was a cluster of three buildings called Lockeport. They were located a mile north of Walnut Grove on the property of George Locke, a long-time Sacramento merchant who had owned farm land in the delta region since the 1880s. Lockeport was constructed by Tin Sin Chan and others from the Chung Shan district in Kwangtung province, China.
When a fire destroyed the Chinese American section of Walnut Grove in October 1915, a division arose in the community between people who had emigrated from the Chung Shan district and those from the Toi Shan and other districts in Sze Yup ("the four districts"). The people from Sze Yup (mostly from Toi Shan) decided to rebuild their community in Walnut Grove, but those from Chung Shan, speaking a different dialect of Cantonese and observing different customs, decided under the leadership of Bing Lee to relocate to Lockeport.
When the newcomers arrived in Lockeport, the only buildings were a saloon owned by Tin Sin Chan, a boarding house built by Wing Chong Owyang, and a gambling hall built by Yuen Lai Sing. Bing Lee financed construction of six buildings near the first three Chinese American buildings at a cost of $1,200 for each two-story structure. The buildings were erected against the land side of the levee, fronting a road on top of the levee and with a main street behind and below the levee. Between 1915 and 1920, residents of Lockeport shortened its name to Locke, and it gradually expanded from the original cluster of nine buildings.
Locke eventually had a permanent population of about 400, but at times seasonal crop workers increased this figure to more than a thousand. It had a church, a small Chinese school, a post office, a lodge, a theater, nine restaurants and boarding houses, five hotels and rooming houses, two saloons, four grocery stores, a hardware and herb store, a fishmarket, two dry goods stores, a dentist's office, two cigar stands, a shoe repair shop, a poolroom, and a bakery. Bordellos also abounded, along with gambling halls.
Although the population of the town of Locke has dropped today to fewer than 100, it still survives as a reminder of the significant contribution the Chinese American people have made to agricultural development and rural life in California, despite racism and discriminatory legislation.
Locke is a California State Historical Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Locke, Locke, Sacramento County


  1. The above text was revised on June 12, 2012. The previous text regarding Lockeport has changed.

  2. Exclusivity of "one-culture" claims to Locke, California's history does not honor Chinese people and disregards the contributions of all others.
    George W. Locke was an 8th generation American, born in New Hampshire in 1830 of English descent. He came to California in 1852, lured by the Gold Rush and was a successful pioneer merchant in Sacramento and purchased many properties between 1859 and 1893, including three large swampland parcels in the Sacramento Delta. He died on August 20, 1909. The original 2011 version of nps.gov text was put on a large laminated museum display, claiming that "after a 1915 fire in nearby Walnut Grove, two Chinese merchants approached George W. Locke and asked permission to build their town on his land."
    At a town board meeting in 2012, it was pointed out that the factual claim was impossible, as George W. Locke died in 1909. The museum display texts were quickly revised and have been changed at least four times since then, and still cite no documented evidence to the exclusively one-culture historical claims to Locke, California.
    Revisionist claims of Locke being "built for and by" one culture serve what good purpose? To right the wrongs of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882? Doubtful. Some have suggested, follow the money.
    San Francisco Call 1895 newspaper is the earliest known published reference to our town of Lockeport, California. 1930 US Census of Locke, California lists 410 residents from 23 different countries of origin of whom Russian and Spanish immigrants outnumbered all other foreign immigrants residing in Locke, California. Lockeport (now Locke) was then and is now global village. Most of Locke, California's current population in 2015 immigrated from Mexico.

    1. Yeah can you stop lying to people and give the real facts? I've read that you've been told about a significant number of times that you are incorrect. Unless you are racist against China in some way I suggest you stop trying to mess with things. You are stirring up things and it's not positive.

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