Chinatown: Before the Earthquake (1)

Postcards on this page and on the next two pages show Chinatown before the 1906 earthquake and fire.

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Pre-1906 Chinatown as presented to the tourist: a joss house (temple), a restaurant, an opium den. Left: Goeggel & Weidner 35, postmarked SF 12/04/1903. The original photo is © 1887 by I.W. Taber, but Weidner's postcard does not credit Taber. A very instructive blog post by Peter Romaskiewicz discusses Weidner 35 in detail. He identifies the location as Lung Kong Association at 9 Brooklyn Place. Chinatown: Five Idols shows several variants of this card. Center: Goeggel & Weidner 14, ca. 1903, from photo © 1902 by Goeggel & Weidner ("Interior of Chinese restaurant, San Francisco", #18449 6/02/1902). A Taber photo gives a different view of the interior of the same restaurant, identified in Judy Yung's San Francisco's Chinatown (Arcadia, 2016, revised ed., p. 17) as the top-floor Grand Dining Room of Hang Far Low, ca. 1882. Chinatown: Hang Far Low shows the post-quake Hang Far Low. Right: Weidner 31, ca. 1905. Earlier variants of this card (Goeggel & Weidner 31) date from 1903. City supervisors outlawed non-medicinal opium in 1875, but without success; opium use continued in Chinatown until 1907.

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These cards are based on artfully staged photos © 1900 by Charles Weidner. Left: Goeggel & Weidner 32, postmarked SF 12/01/1903, photo © #573 class D #8704 4/24/1900 [p. 360, "Chinese cobbler"]. This extremely popular photo appears as the frontispiece in the first issue of Camera Craft (Vol. 1 #1, May 1900). Chinatown: Chinese Cobbler shows other variants. Center: Goeggel & Weidner 33, ca. 1903, photo © #163 class D #6721 3/26/1900 [p. 80, "Chinese fortune teller"]. Right: Weidner 140, post-quake caption, postmarked Oakland 2/17/1908 (earlier variants date from 1904), photo © #164 class D #6720 3/26/1900 [p. 80, "Morning (A) smoke"]. The sender notes that the caption "Hitting the Pipe" is intentionally misleading, as it suggests opium smoking but here the smoker is presumably just smoking tobacco. Several Weidner Chinatown photos, including all three of these, appear in Why The Chinese Should Be Excluded in Railroad Trainmen's Journal (Vol. 19, Issue 1, Jan. 1902).

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Left: Britton & Rey 485, another cobbler, photo ca. 1903 by W.E. Worden (uncredited). Next: Unknown publisher 1Z9, another fortune teller. Next: Britton & Rey 493, postmarked SF 12/28/1903; very enigmatic unusual mixed-race subject, caption decidedly non-PC by modern standards. The woman's clay pipe is surely added by the postcard artist and "Highbinder Headquarters" is presumably just sensationalism. Mitchell 210 uses the same image, but with another figure between the boy and woman, caption "A Happy Family in Chinatown". Right: Zimmerman, postmarked 10/25/1908; pre-quake image written/mailed post-quake. Behrendt 6 using the same image is postmarked 7/23/1906.

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Exotically dressed Chinese children were a very popular subject for photographers and postcards, though they were a small portion of the population; the ratio of men to women in 1900 Chinatown is estimated as 20 to 1. These staid poses against plain backgrounds lack visual interest, in stark contrast to Weidner's cobbler / fortune teller / smoker postcards above. Left: Britton & Rey 478, written 12/1903, caption "Chinese Custom of Carrying Children". Weidner 142 (not shown; written 10/06/1904) uses the same image, captioned "Chinese Slave Girl", and a post-quake variant captions it "Chinese nurse-girl without home after fire Apr. 18, 1906". Next: Britton & Rey 488, postmarked SF 2/06/1904. Next: Goeggel & Weidner 15, written 11/12/1903. Right: Weidner 16, postmarked SF 12/17/1908, with caption modified by Weidner after the earthquake (see Chinatown: Chinese Girls). Earlier variants (Goeggel & Weidner) date from 1903. Not shown: Britton & Rey 594.

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Left: Goeggel & Weidner 34 shows Fish Alley (Washington Place), written 10/06/1904. A later variant Weidner 34 has an added post-quake caption. Next: Britton & Rey 516 shows the interior of a Chinese theater on the south side of Jackson between Kearny/Washington Place. Next: Britton & Rey 491 postmarked 2/16/1904 shows a Chinese actor playing a female character. Right: Weidner 156, pre-quake Chinese drug store with added post-quake caption.

Steve's SF postcard pages: