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  • Emily Pan

SLO Chinatown by Huell Howser

Updated: Jan 3, 2021


In the mid-1800s, many Chinese people came to California in search of a better life, but also to help build their community. Back then, 3/4 of Palm Street was San Luis Obispo's Chinatown, but today, only the Ah Louis store remains. Most of the Chinese laborers were men, and in addition to building roads and railroads, they also worked on various public works projects. Most of the laborers came from the Canton Province, the same province Ah Louis is from, so the dialect spoken was Cantonese.

  • The Joss House and the buildings surrounding it were what started Chinatown

  • A lot of those buildings were boarding houses, where four to five men would stay together in a room

  • The town's Chinese population fluctuated

  • When there was a big public works project, such as a lake being drained, there were probably more Chinese laborers than the census recorded

  • The laborers worked on ranches, were cooks and laundrymen, and they worked where they were needed

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year was a big deal both in China, but also in San Luis Obispo's Chinatown.

There would be lion dancers, music, food, firecrackers and many other festivities during Chinese New Year. This happened every year from the 1860s to 1924. Howard Louis says there were as many as 100,000 firecrackers shot off on Chinese New Year's.

  • Cal Poly Chinese Student's Association

  • One of the oldest clubs on campus - started back in the 1930s by Young and Stella Louis

Gold Rush

In the 1850s, people from all over the world rushed to California in response to the gold rush. In fact, in 1852, 20,000 Chinese arrived in San Francisco and within 10 years, there was regular boat service between San Francisco and Hong Kong. At the beginning, they were welcomed as they were looking for gold like everyone else. But then, there were so many laborers and not enough jobs, leading to high unemployment. Therefore, in the 1860s and 1870s, the European Americans began to blame the Chinese for taking away the jobs. As a result, the Chinese were discriminated against, and by 1882, immigration from China was cut off. By 1892, the Chinese in the United States were forced to carry photo I.D.s with them.

Photo I.D.s

In the 1890s, the Chinese had to carry registration cards and certificates of residency with them, where ever they went. Therefore, they had their photos taken by a local photographer, which can be seen at the History Center of San Luis Obispo County. At the time, a lot of them were the lowest economic status in California, but they are the faces of the men and boys who built this state.

Works Cited

“San Luis Obispo ChinaTown- California's Gold (907).” Huell Howser Archives at Chapman University, 8 Sept. 2016,

Image Source

“San Luis Obispo ChinaTown- California's Gold (907).” Huell Howser Archives at Chapman University, 8 Sept. 2016,

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