Chinatown: Sing Fat Co.


Sing Fat & Co. Chinese & Japanese Bazaar was a very successful store in pre-earthquake Chinatown, located immediately north of Saint Mary's at 614 Dupont (now Grant) by 1895. Keystone stereoview 9232 (click here for crosseyed viewing) looks north on Dupont from between California and Sacramento. Another pre-quake view of Sing Fat is here and a bleak post-quake photo is here (note the Sing Fat sign on St. Mary's). A few Chinatown postcards published by Sing Fat are here.

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Sing Fat was among the first businesses to rebuild after Chinatown was destroyed by fire following the 4/18/1906 earthquake. Owner Tong Bong hired architects Ross and Burgren to build a new pagoda-themed Sing Fat building on the SW corner of California/Dupont, half a block from the previous location. The 1907 Crocker-Langley city directory lists Sing Fat at at California/Dupont and also at 1121 Post, in the new post-quake retail section on Van Ness that sprang up during rebuilding. Ross and Burgren also designed a building across California St. (NW corner of California/Dupont) for Sing Chong Co., and the two iconic buildings appear in countless Chinatown postcards. Sing Fat Co.'s last city directory listing is in the 1931 Polk's Crocker-Langley.

Left: Weidner 591, postmarked SF 8/04/1909, is a testimonial: "This is a picture of my friends store Sing Fat, and he keeps some of the most beautiful imported china ware made and most everything els that a person could wish." Another example is postmarked SF 8/05/1908, so the image must date from soon after the building of the store. Center: Bardell 30, postmarked SF 10/29/1910. The tower of Sing Chong does not yet have the emblem seen in later views, so the photo probably dates from 1908. Right: Behrendt 8291, postmarked SF 8/07/1909; the image must date from 1907-1909.

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Left: Pacific Novelty 66, with the building garishly colored; another example is postmarked 8/dd/1923. Next: Pacific Novelty 263; a variant with added PPIE crest is postmarked 6/11/1912. Next: Cardinell-Vincent 1. Right: Pacific Stationery 100.

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Sing Fat Co. must have handed out many, many thousands of advertising postcards like these, and many variants remain widely available today. All display the Sing Fat Dragon Trade Mark, as does the building; obviously Sing Fat understood branding. Left: Sanborn, postmarked SF 3/28/1908. Next: Roesch, postmarked Gaston OR 2/17/1912. Next: Pacific Novelty, postmarked LA 2/18/1921. Right: Unknown publisher 9503; another example is postmarked SF 8/17/1914. The 1908 Sanborn card cites the location as Dupont/California, not Grant/California; Dupont was officially renamed in 1908. The 1912 card mentions a branch in LA; the 1921 card mentions a branch at Geary/Grant, and the card at right mentions branches in LA and NYC. The card at right uses the same image as the card at left, with numerous minor tweaks from the postcard artist (comparison here), including a cable car coming down California. Similar, not shown: Pacific Novelty.

Not shown: Benham 1577, postmarked Los Angeles 1/17/1911, displays the Los Angeles branch of Sing Fat (615 South Broadway).

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These cards all show the California Street hill, including Sing Fat and Sing Chong at Grant and cable cars on California. Left: Mitchell 1779 is postmarked SF 8/20/1910, so the image must date from 1908-1910. This is one of very few Chinatown postcards taking advantage of the striking visual juxtaposition of Old St. Mary's with the pagoda towers of Sing Fat and Sing Chong. Next: Souvenir 138, postmarked 7/06/1914, looking west toward Nob Hill. Next: Piltz 110, postmarked SF 4/30/1947. Right: Smith News 6. These later linen era cards both look east to the distant Bay Bridge.

Steve's SF postcard pages: