Chinatown, San Francisco
You may have been to Chinatown in other cities but San Francisco's Chinatown is a whole other realm. It is both the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest of its kind in North America. The people are descendants of Asians, mainly railway workers, who settled here from 1850 onwards, just after the Gold Rush. With ever-increasing immigration from Asia in the last 30 years, Chinatown has experienced its greatest period of population growth.
Buddha's Universal Church
Buddha's Universal Church, the largest Buddhist temple in America, was built in the early 1960s on the corner of Washington Street and Kearny Street in San Francisco by members of the Pristine Orthodox Dharma, a strongly Americanized modern offshoot of Buddhism. On the roof may be seen, in addition to a lotus pool, a Bodhi tree, said to be a shoot from the tree under which the Buddha arrived at enlightenment (Bodhi), more than 2,500 years ago. Inside is an altar built in the shape of the ship of the Dharma.
Address: 720 Washington Street, San Francisco, CA 94108-1396, United States
Useful tips: Services are held at 11:15 a.m. on the second Sunday of each month. On the fourth Sunday of each month, there are meetings on the books of Buddhism starting at 10:30 in the morning for church members only.
Chinese Cultural Center
The Chinese Cultural Center occupies a floor of the Hilton San Francisco Financial District Hotel. It is primarily a meeting place for San Francisco's Chinese community and incorporates a 650-seat auditorium in which cultural, political and religious events are held.The Cultural Center also serves as a museum, displaying Chinese works of art and promoting other aspects of Chinese culture.
Old St Mary's Church
Old St Mary's Church (on the corner of Grant Avenue and California Street) is the oldest Catholic church in San Francisco. Built in 1854 it was badly damaged in the 1906 earthquake and also by a serious fire 60 years later. Having been restored its appearance today is very much as it was in San Francisco's early days. Originally a cathedral, it is now simply a parish church. The new St Mary's Cathedral is situated in another part of town, on Cathedral Hill.Carved above the clock dial is the admonition: "Son Observe the Time and Fly from Evil". In addition to the church the clergy house is also noteworthy. Designed by the New York architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, it was built in 1964.
Address: 660 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94108-2566, United States
Opening hours: 7am-7pm; Sun: 8am-3pm; Sat: 10am-7pm
Useful tips: Noontime Concerts: every Tuesday at 12:30pm for live music. Suggested donation of $10.
Facilities: Gift shop
Transit: Bus: 1, 15, 30, 45.
St Mary's Square
From Old St Mary's Church there is a view of St Mary's Square. The site was presented to the city by the Catholic diocese in 1912. Beneath it today there is an underground garage. On the square stands Beniamino Bufano's statue of Dr Sun Yat-sen, the first president of the Republic of China (January 1st 1912-February 14th 1912). In the early part of the century he spent several years of political asylum in San Francisco.Telephone kioskA short distance north of Old St Mary's Church stands one of Chinatown's many Chinese-style telephone kiosks.The statue is constructed of steel and rose granite.
Any visit to Chinatown ought to start at Chinatown Gateway on the corner of Grant Avenue and Bush Street. Erected in 1970 the gate is of typical Oriental construction, decorated with dragons and other creatures. Like most San Francisco thoroughfares, Grant Avenue up to Bush Street was widened in the 19th century; the part of the street running away beyond Chinatown Gate gives the best impression of what the city must once have looked like.
Chinese Six Companies
The headquarters of the Chinese Six Companies in San Francisco is perhaps the most important institution in Chinatown. In the 19th century it recruited Chinese laborers, the so-called "coolies" - the word means roughly "hard labor" - to build the Transcontinental Railway.Later it functioned as a sort of arbitrator to sort out quarrels between the Chinese. Today it has lost something of its former prestige but it is still of considerable social significance.
Chinese Theaters (closed)
In and around John Street in San Francisco's Chinatown are three Chinese theaters. A visit is particularly interesting because of the simple style of staging, the dissonant music, the exotic audience, the wonderful costumes and the apparent lack of event in the plot of the plays, the performance of which used to go on for days and weeks on end, and in which even the women's roles were formerly taken by men.The Chinese theaters are now closed.
East West Bank (formerly Bank of Canton)
The pagoda-like building on the corner of Grant Avenue and Washington Street is at present occupied by the East West Bank. It was built in 1909 as the Chinatown telephone office. From 1894 to 1949 there was a Chinese language telephone service which operated independently of the central San Francisco exchange; calls were put through manually. In 1847 the first San Francisco newspaper, the "California Star", was printed here.
Dick Young House
San Francisco came into existence at the spot now occupied by Dick Young House (823 Grant Avenue), between Clay Street and Washington Street. It was here on June 25th 1835 that the first human habitation was erected in the new settlement of Yerba Buena, as San Francisco was originally called. It was actually a tent, replaced a few months later by the first timber houses.
Kong Chow Temple
The Kong Chow Temple building was erected in 1977 on the corner of Clay Street and Stockton Street in San Francisco. It is the head office of the oldest Chinese friendly society in America, the Kong Chow Benevolent Association. Visiting times for the temple which bears its name are posted on its doors. The central post office for Chinatown is housed on the third floor.
Pacific Heritage Museum (Closed Permanently)
THIS ATTRACTION IS NOW CLOSED.The Pacific Heritage Museum of San Francisco was established in 1984 and is housed in the restored historic US Subtreasury Building, built in 1875. The building is located at the site of the original US Branch Mint. Exhibits at the Pacific Heritage Museum feature architectural plans, photographs, coins and other artifacts from the early development of San Francisco.
Portsmouth Plaza (Portsmouth Square)
Portsmouth Plaza in San Francisco was named for the U.S.S. Portsmouth, commanded by Captain John B. Montgomery. The plaza was once the city center, the site of the first public school in 1847 and public meetings. Today it lies at the heart of Chinatown and features statues and plaques.
Tien Hou Temple
Tien Hou Temple is on the top floor of 125 Waverly Place (between Washington and Clay Streets). Originally founded in 1852 on a different site, the temple is dedicated to Tien How, the Buddhist Queen of Heaven. Non-Buddhists can visit the temple without too much difficulty.
Soo Yuen Benevolent Association
The building belonging to the Soo Yuen Benevolent Institution on the corner of Grant Avenue and Clay Street was given its distinctive Chinese appearance only in 1912.
Spofford Alley turns off between Clay Street and Washington Street. It is one of those intriguing alleyways of the sort found only in Chinatown. Beyond Washington Street it joins Old Chinatown Lane, once notorious for its numerous brothels.
Fidelity Savings Bank
More Chinatown Pictures
Map of San Francisco Attractions