Library of Congress

Early Motion Pictures

Item 1 of 1

Scene in Chinatown

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United States : American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, 1902.


H30730 U.S. Copyright Office

Copyright: American Mutoscope and Biograph Company; 24Apr1903; H30730.

Duration: 1:06 at 15 fps.

Camera, Raymond Ackerman.

Photographed: September 15, 1900. Location: Chinatown, San Francisco.

This film was shot in an alley of San Francisco's Chinatown on Saturday, September 15, 1900, at midday. The topography of the site (sloping down to the far street), the width of the alley, the location of utility poles [14139] and the location of buildings across the far street suggest that the view is north from Washington Street down Washington Place (today's Wentworth Street) to Jackson Street. Washington Place was known locally as Tuck Wo Gai ("Virtue and Harmony Street") and adjacent Washington Street was called Wa Sheng Dun Gai ("Waystation to Prosperity Street"). Washington place was located in the northeast part of old Chinatown, just northwest of Portsmouth Square, around which gold rush San Francisco was built. Chinese provision stores lined the west (left) side of Washington Place, with fish and poultry stores on the east side. Three gambling houses were also located on the east side toward Jackson Street. The film features a group of white men ascending the alley [14364] before dispersing down Washington Street. Some Chinese residents are also seen. The group of men, one dressed as an inspector, are most likely members of the Health Department Committee on an inspection tour. Presumably, such a tour would have been easiest on a Saturday, when most Chinatown residents were likely to be home. Chinatown suffered from extreme crowding in ghetto conditions and was a major health concern for San Francisco. Bubonic plague had initially appeared in Chinatown in March 1900, but only a few cases were subsequently identified and there was no epidemic. Authorities remained on the alert, however, and a second outbreak occurred in January 1901; the disease was not fully eradicated until 1908. Alternatively, the group may be the Chinatown Squad, formed in 1875 as the Raiding Squad, which suppressed illegal activities in Chinatown. However, the casual, non- militant aspect of the group and the absence of any detained persons make it unlikely that this is the Chinatown Squad. A few Chinese men with characteristic queues are seen in the alley [14577] and several Chinese women in fashionable dress descend Washington Street near the end of the film. The first woman [14603] may be a family servant, the second and third women [14642] may be a mother and daughter; unescorted women of good character were rarely seen alone outdoors.

Received: 4/24/03; paper pos; copyright deposit Paper Print Collection.

Streets--California- -San Francisco.
Pedestrians-- California--San Francisco.
Commercial buildings--California--San Francisco.
Chinatown (San Francisco, Calif.)

Ackerman, Raymond, camera.
Ameri can Mutoscope and Biograph Company.
Paper Print Collection (Library of Congress) DLC

1 roll (55 ft) : si., b&w ; 35 mm. paper pos.

LC 375 (paper pos)