Ah Louis

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On Wong (1840 – December 16, 1936), more commonly known as Ah Louis, was a Chinese American banker, labor contractor, farmer, and shopkeeper in San Luis Obispo, California during the late 19th and early 20th century. His Ah Louis Store building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Ah Louis was a central figure in the development of the Central Coast of California, serving as an organizer of Chinese laborers during the construction of the Pacific Coast Railway's AvilaPort Harford spur and the tunnels through Cuesta Grade over the Santa Lucia Range.

History[edit]

Ah Louis Store
Ah Louis Store.jpg
Ah Louis Store
Location 800 Palm Street, San Luis Obispo, California
Coordinates 35°16′54″N 120°39′51″W / 35.281533°N 120.664167°W / 35.281533; -120.664167Coordinates: 35°16′54″N 120°39′51″W / 35.281533°N 120.664167°W / 35.281533; -120.664167
Built 1885
Governing body Private
Designated March 26, 2008
Reference No. 08000203[1]
Designated 1965
Reference No. 802[2]
Ah Louis is located in California
Ah Louis
Location of Ah Louis Store in California

Ah Louis traveled from his home in Guangzhou (Canton), China, and arrived in California between 1856 and 1861 in order to strike it rich during the California Gold Rush. Unsuccessful at mining, he became a laborer working in Corvallis, Oregon and points further south.

Ah eventually settled in San Luis Obispo, California in 1870, and was working as a cook in a hotel there in 1871. Soon he began to organize work-crews to help construct the Pacific Coast Railroad, delivering 160 Chinese Americans from San Francisco by schooner.[3] In 1877, Ah was awarded two large road construction contracts, including a road from Paso Robles, California to Cambria, California (now the westernmost portion of State Route 46) and the first stages of a road connecting San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles, California (now referred to as Cuesta Grade, a portion of which is still drivable and is labeled off the freeway as "Old Stagecoach Road" and a portion of U.S. Route 101). In 1884, Ah received the contract to construct the four Cuesta Grade tunnels for the Southern Pacific Railroad, requiring the provision of 2,000 laborers and taking ten years to complete.

Store[edit]

Seeing a need for the California Central Coast's Chinese community, Ah opened a small oriental mercantile in 1874, the first in San Luis Obispo County, from which he sold goods including rice, rum, and opium (opium use was legal until 1915).[4] The wooden structure was replaced by a sturdy brick building in 1885, made from bricks from his own brickyard which still stands at 800 Palm Street on the corner of Chorro Street in downtown San Luis Obispo, marking where San Luis Obispo's Chinatown once stood. The shop is currently owned by Dr. William Watson, Ah Louis's great-grandson,[5][6] and the ground floor is now open as a gift shop, though now converted into a westernized shop, selling mostly housewares.

The Ah Louis store has been designated as a California State Historical Landmark number 802,[2] by the United States National Park Service,[3] and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[1]

Family[edit]

Ah Louis married his first wife in China in 1860.[7] She was in California in 1868, but returned to China about 1873. Ah last saw her in China in 1888.[7] The 1880 census shows a wife living with him, but no children are shown.[8] In May 1889, Ah married Eng Gon Ying (Silver Dove) in San Francisco. Together they raised their eight children (five sons and three daughters) in their residence above the Ah Louis Store.[9]

Louis Children
  • Lena Ah Tye Louis (1891-1975)
  • Young Jung Yeong Louis (1893-1988)
  • Mae Ah May Louis (1895-1988)
  • Walter Ah Sing Louis (1897-1993)
  • George Ah Him Louis (1899-1993)
  • Helen Ah Heong Louis (1903-1994)
  • Fred Ah Yuey Louis (1907-1994)
  • Howard “Toby” Ah Toa Wong Louis (1908-2008)

In 1909 Eng Gon Ying Louis was murdered by Willie Wong, Ah Louis' son from his first marriage.[7][10] In December 1932, accompanied by sons Fred and Howard,[11] Ah returned to China, intending to visit family and to follow the tradition of dying where one was born. Disappointed with the lack of progress and modern technology and the high rate of banditry, Ah decided to return to San Luis Obispo. He died on December 18, 1936.[4]

The youngest and last surviving of Ah Louis' children, Howard Louis, who continued to run the store until the late 1990s, died on August 15, 2008, at the age of 100.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  2. ^ a b "Ah Louis Store". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2013-08-05. 
  3. ^ a b "National Park Service, "An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California (Chinese Americans): Ah Louis Store". Retrieved 2013-08-05. 
  4. ^ a b Daniel Blackburn (2003-11-19). "Chinese remembered: Ah Louis left a huge imprint on San Luis Obispo’s formative years". Retrieved 2013-08-05. 
  5. ^ "National Register of Historic Places: Registration Form". 2008. Retrieved 2013-08-05. 
  6. ^ "SLO City Resolution for Historic Preservation". 2006. Archived from the original on 2012-03-13. Retrieved 2013-08-05. 
  7. ^ a b c Judy Hendricks (2008). "The Murder of Gon Yin Luis". Heritage Shared (with excerpts from The Times of SLO). Retrieved 2013-08-05.  Willie Louis was born about 1868. He testified in court he was born in California, that he went back to China with his mother about 1873, that he returned to California about 1893, that he made several trips back and forth, and that his latest arrival was about 1905. He was executed at San Quentin Prison in 1912.
  8. ^ "Louis household in 1880 US Census". Retrieved 2013-08-05. 
  9. ^ "A History of Chinese Americans in California: Ah Louis Store". Retrieved 2013-08-05. 
  10. ^ Jeffry Radding (2009). A Vital Determination (PDF). Bar Bulletin. Retrieved 2013-08-05. 
  11. ^ "1934 Interview with Ah Louis for Westways Magazine". Retrieved 2013-08-05. 
  12. ^ "Obituary:Howard W. Louis". Zirana/San Luis Obispo. 2008. Archived from the original on 2012-03-25. Retrieved 2013-08-05. 

External links[edit]