Photos: Philip P. Choy Celebrates San Francisco Chinatown

Last week, renowned historian and Chinese American studies pioneer Philip P. Choy celebrated the release of his new book, San Francisco Chinatown (City Lights, 2012) at City Lights Bookstore.

Choy was born in San Francisco Chinatown, 1926, at a time when an invisible boundary isolated the community from mainstream San Francisco. He lived on the N.W. corner of Pacific and Grant Ave. where his father co-owned a meat market that catered not only to the Chinese in the community but to the neighboring Italian housewives in North Beach.

Like all Chinese children he attended public school and after school attended Chinese school from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. He went to the University of California under the G.I. Bill and graduated with a degree in Architecture.

He is a retired architect and a renowned historian on the history of Chinese America. In the midst of the civil rights movement, Choy and his colleague Him Mark Lai co-taught the Nation’s first college level course in Chinese American history at San Francisco State University. Since then he has created and consulted on numerous T.V. documentaries, exhibits and publications, including the Gaam Saan Haak–The Chinese of America in 1974. He co-authored The Coming Man: 19th Century American Perceptions of the Chinese with Professors Marlon Hom and Lorraine Dong.

San Francisco Chinatown is his newest book, an “insider’s guide” to one of America’s most celebrated ethnic enclaves. In the book Choy details the triumphs and tragedies of the Chinese American experience in the United States. Both a history of America’s oldest Chinese community and a guide to its significant sites and architecture, San Francisco Chinatown traces the development of the neighborhood from the city’s earliest days to its post-quake transformation into an “oriental” tourist attraction as a pragmatic means of survival. Featuring a building-by-building breakdown of the most significant sites in Chinatown, the guide is lavishly illustrated with historical and contemporary photographs and offers walking tours for tourists and locals alike.

His community services includes providing pro-bono architectural services to non-profit organizations such as the Chinese for Affirmative Action, the former Chinese YWCA, the Oroville Temple, and in 1943 produced the case report that placed the Angel Island Immigration Station on the National Registry of Historic Places. He has served on the California State Historic Resource Commission, on the San Francisco Landmark Advisory Board, five times as President of the Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA), and currently an emeritus CHSA boardmember.

Among his awards of recognition is the prestigious San Francisco State University President’s Medal. We were thrilled to hear Choy discuss growing up in Chinatown and the changes he’s witnessed in the neighborhood, both architecturally and politically. Stay tuned for a podcast of the event and our one-on-one interview with the author on LIVE! From City Lights!

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