Ross Alley was initially built in 1849, adjacent to the house of the pioneer merchant Charles L. Ross, from whom the name is derived. The original name was Stout's Alley, however, for Dr. Arthur Breese Stout, who had purchased Ross's house, which stood near the present-day corner of Washington and Ross Alley. The oldest alley in San Francisco, Ross Alley was considered to be one of the main locations for brothels, especially during the days of the Barbary Coast. Women were brought to the slave dens and served against their will.
Ross Alley was also notorious for highbinders and gambling dens in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Several establishments in "the stronghold for gambling dens" featured iron doors, which were banned by local ordinance in 1889. In several instances, the Chinese population was victimized by people impersonating police officers, and in at least one instance, police protection of gambling led to the removal of an officer.
According to a 1901 article, "Ross [A]lley is thought to be the spot in San Francisco where the souls of the dead can most easily come and where the evil spirits are forbidden to exercise their powers".
The main entrance to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company, a popular tourist destination, is located in Ross Alley. The building used to house a sewing factory, owned by Henry Pon Lee, who vacated the premises during the late 1960s.
In the early 20th century, the Siberia Club, at 25-27-29 Ross Alley, run by Yee Mee, "king of the Chinatown gamblers" and head of the Hop Sing Tong, was one of the more notable gaming establishments. A raid on September 28, 1912 netted 46 Chinese, and another raid just days later arrested another 50 gamblers, despite a September 17 injunction prohibiting police interference.
In 1909, the San Francisco Call rallied voters for William Henry Crocker as Mayor over P. H. McCarthy, who was predicted to be too tolerant of Chinatown, as "Mar Len Geet's brothel in Ross alley is a hotbed of P. H. McCarthy enthusiasm."
- Ross Alley was filmed in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Big Trouble in Little China, and The Karate Kid Part II.
- Jun Yu, who runs Yu's Barber Shop and plays the erhu in Ross Alley, had a role in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, which was filmed and set in the Bay Area.
- Bell, Hudson (28 June 2016). "Ross Alley & the truth about Chinatown's side streets". The Fern Hill Times. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
- "Two Chinese Babies Taken From a Disreputable House to the Methodist Mission". San Francisco Call. 80 (87). 26 August 1896. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
- "Six Slave Girls Captured in Raid". San Francisco Call. 109 (103). 13 March 1911. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
- "Fled Slavedom to the Mission". San Francisco Call. 85 (125). 4 April 1899. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
- "Girl Slave Flees From Chinese Den". San Francisco Call. 108 (76). 15 August 1910. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
- "Police Make Raid in Chinatown". San Francisco Call. 87 (47). 17 July 1900. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
- "Sergeant Layne Just Must Keep Raiding". San Francisco Call. 111 (176). 24 May 1912. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
- "A Chinatown Crusade". Daily Alta California. 80 (116). 25 April 1889. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
In pursuance of instructions issued by Chief Crowley, Captain Douglass and Sergeant Wittman and a posse of about twenty officers began a crusade against iron doors in Chinatown yesterday afternoon. Ross alley, the stronghold for gambling dens, was first visited. As the officers began to break down the massive iron doors with sledge-hammers, thousands of Mongols gathered in the vicinity, and another posse of officers was required to drive them away.
- "Highbinders Held Up". San Francisco Call. 85 (21). 21 December 1898. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
About 2 o'clock Robinson was in Ross alley, and he was highly amused at seeing two members of Lieutenant Price's squad hold up Chinese and search them for weapons, as has been the rule for some weeks. After the two officers left Robinson started in to have some fun on his own account, and every Chinese that passed through the alley was ordered to stop by the drunken sailor, who searched them for any old thing. The Chinese complained to the officers, and Robinson was arrested and booked for impersonating an officer.
- "Impersonated an Officer". San Francisco Call. 93 (95). 5 March 1903. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
- "Sergeant Patric Mahoney is Removed from Chinatown". San Francisco Call. 87 (64). 3 August 1900. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
- "Chinese Honor Souls of Dead". San Francisco Call. 87 (87). 26 August 1901. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
- "Hop Sings at War with Suey Sings". Press Democrat. 3 September 1910. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
- "Chinese Gambling Den is Raided by Police". San Francisco Call. 112 (120). 28 September 1912. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
- "Sergeant Ross Again Raids Siberia Club". San Francisco Call. 112 (124). 2 October 1912. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
- "Voters are Aroused to City's Peril". San Francisco Call. 106 (153). 31 October 1909. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
- Coggins, Mark (14 July 2011). "The City in Focus: Ross Alley". Huffpost (blog). Retrieved 22 September 2017.
- Fong-Torres, Shirley (2008). The Woman Who Ate Chinatown: A San Francisco Odyssey. Bloomington, Indiana: iUniverse. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-595-89191-7. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
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- Pomerantz, Joel. "When Chinatown Was a World Apart". San Francisco Thinkwalks. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
- Keeling, Brock (26 July 2017). "Chinatown alleyways: A tour of our favorites". Curbed San Francisco. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
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