Dragon Gate (San Francisco)

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Dragon Gate
1 chinatown san francisco arch gateway.JPG
The gate in 2010
Dragon Gate (San Francisco) is located in San Francisco
Dragon Gate (San Francisco)
Location in San Francisco
Dragon Gate (San Francisco) is located in San Francisco Bay Area
Dragon Gate (San Francisco)
Dragon Gate (San Francisco) (San Francisco Bay Area)
Coordinates37°47′27″N 122°24′20″W / 37.7907°N 122.4056°W / 37.7907; -122.4056Coordinates: 37°47′27″N 122°24′20″W / 37.7907°N 122.4056°W / 37.7907; -122.4056
LocationStraddling Grant just north of Bush, San Francisco
DesignerClayton Lee, Melvin Lee, and Joseph Yee
Opening dateOctober 18, 1970

Dragon Gate ("Chinatown Gate" on some maps) is a south-facing gate at the intersection of Bush Street and Grant Avenue, marking a southern entrance to San Francisco's Chinatown, in the U.S. state of California. It, along with the older Sing Fat and Sing Chong buildings (at Grant and California), is one of the most photographed locations in Chinatown.


In 1953, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce sponsored a bilingual essay contest on how to improve Chinatown business, in the wake of an U.S. embargo on mainland China imports after the People's Republic of China entered the Korean conflict. The winner of the English division, Charles L. Leong, suggested in his essay, among many things, the erection of an authentic archway to Chinatown at Bush and Grant. In 1956, the Chinatown Improvement Committee, appointed by Mayor George Christopher, made the archway its top priority, but further progress was stalled.[1]:148-151

In 1967 Mayor John F. Shelley, Mayor Christopher's successor, also championed the project and sponsored a design competition. This contest to design a gateway was won[2] by a team of three Chinese-Americans, architect Clayton Lee, along with landscape architects Melvin H. Lee and Joseph Yee, who were inspired by Chinese village architecture of ceremonial gates.[3][4] Materials for the gateway, viz., 120 artisanal ochre tiles, were donated by the Republic of China (Taiwan) in 1969.[1]:252 [5][6]

The gateway was dedicated on October 18, 1970, by Mayor Joseph Alioto, Mayor Shelly's successor, and Vice-President Yen Chia-kan of the Republic of China (Taiwan).[1]:151-152 [3]


Male lion (west portal)
Female lion (east portal)
Chinese guardian lions at Dragon Gate

Like most Chinese ceremonial gates, the Chinatown Gateway has three portals facing south. The two smaller west and east (pedestrian) portals flank the larger central (automotive) portal, and the structure is supported on stone columns rising from the sidewalks on either side of Grant. The stone columns adhere to standards for Chinese gateways;[3][4] in contrast, most 'Chinese' gateways constructed in the United States use wooden support columns.[7] Each portal is covered with green tiles, leading north along Grant Avenue into Chinatown.

West portal
Center portal
East portal
Chinese signs, to be read right to left, above the three portals at Dragon Gate

Three shallow steps lead up to each pedestrian portal. Each pedestrian portal features a stone Chinese guardian lion on the side away from the street. By tradition, the lion pair consists of one male and one female. The male lion, at the west portal, stands with his right fore paw atop a pearl or stone, symbolically guarding the structure or empire. The female lion, at the east portal, stands with her left fore paw atop a juvenile lion, symbolically guarding the occupants within.[3]

There are four Chinese characters above each portal. Each sign is read from right to left. The central portal sign reads Chinese: 天下為公; pinyin: tiānxià wèi gōng; literally: 'All under heaven is for the good of the people' (a motto attributed to Dr. Sun Yat-sen);[3] the east portal sign reads 忠孝仁愛; zhōngxiào rén'ài; 'respect (filial piety); love'; and the west reads 信義和平; xìnyì hépíng; 'trust (confidence); peace'.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Wu, Ellen D (2015). "Deghettoizing Chinatown: race and space in postwar America". In Bay, Mia; Fabian, Ann (eds.). Race and retail: consumption across the color line. Rutgers University Press. pp. 141–162. ISBN 978-0-8135-7172-0.
  2. ^ "Chinatown Gateway Selected: Designed by Architect Lee" (p. 26). San Francisco Examiner, Sunday. March 26, 1967.
  3. ^ a b c d e Cindy (11 May 2012). "Chinatown – Gateway Arch". Public Art and Architecture from Around the World. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  4. ^ a b Bevk, Alex (24 July 2017). "Chinatown's Grant Avenue: A look back at one of San Francisco's oldest streets". Curbed San Francisco. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  5. ^ Brinklow, Adam (28 July 2017). "Mapping 16 Chinatown landmarks and their history: #16 Dragon Gate". Curbed San Francisco. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  6. ^ "Chinatown, San Francisco, California". hiddenSF. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  7. ^ "Shopping, dining and culture in San Francisco's Chinatown". San Francisco Travel. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  8. ^ "San Francisco sights: Chinatown Gate". Fodor's. Retrieved 10 March 2018.

External links[edit]