Interview: A History of San Francisco’s Chinatown

Renowned historian Philip Choy grew up in San Francisco’s Chinatown and went on to become an architect in the Bay Area. His book San Francisco Chinatown: A Guide to Its History & Architecture, published by City Lights, reveals the culture and history of the district, and highlights landmarks like the distinctive YWCA Residence Club, designed by architect Julia Morgan, and Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground, named after a former USF basketball star.

KQED’s Michael Krasny spoke with Philip Choy to discuss the stories behind some of these historic sites. Listen below — and in the comments, discuss your favorite sites & stops in Chinatown.


San Francisco Chinatown is the first book of its kind–an “insider’s guide” to one of America’s most celebrated ethnic enclaves by an author born and raised there. Written by architect and Chinese American studies pioneer Philip Choy, the book 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. 

A stunning new guidebook. . . . History buffs will be amazed by the wealth of lore, legend and radiant fact.”San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco Chinatown illuminates the untold history of the enclave . . . to consider the political, historical, and cultural implications of Chinatown’s very existence.”—San Francisco Bay Guardian

. . . a richly illustrated volume that celebrates the history and architecture of this remarkable community, from its earliest pre-earthquake days.” —Sacramento Bee

**A Los Angeles Times summer reading pick**

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