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Chinese In The Richmond: Rodney and Russell Jeung

A project of the Chinese Historical Society of America and Western Neighborhoods Project
A collaboration between the Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA) and Western Neighborhoods Project (WNP), Chinese in the Richmond illuminates the lives of Chinese Americans in San Francisco’s Richmond District from the community’s point of view.
Rodney and Russel Jeung were interviewed by Palma You and Steve Haines of the Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA) via Zoom on October 30, 2020 as part of Chinese in the Richmond—a collaboration with Western Neighborhoods Project (WNP) that illuminates the lives of Chinese Americans in San Francisco’s Richmond District.
“Rodney and Russell Jeung Remember” is an expanded adaptation of the oral history interview conducted by CHSA. Written by Nicole Meldahl, Executive Director of WNP, it places their story within the broader context of the neighborhood and is not verbatim. A transcript summary of Rodney and Russel Jeung’s interview can be read HERE. A digital recording of this interview and additional primary resources not available online are available for research at CHSA.
All uses of this transcript summary and adaptation are covered by a legal agreement between CHSA and the Jeungs. Copyright is shared between the Jeungs and CHSA. Excerpts up to 1000 words from this interview may be quoted for publication without seeking permission as long as the use is non-commercial and properly cited. Requests for permission to quote should be sent to CHSA.
Recommended Citation:
Transcript Summary - “Rodney and Russell Jeung” conducted by Palma You and Steve Haines, Chinese Historical Society of America, San Francisco, California, 2020.
Adaptation - “Rodney and Russell Jeung Remember” written by Nicole Meldahl, Chinese in the Richmond, 2022.
Rodney and Russell Jeung Remember
by Nicole Meldahl, Executive Director, Western Neighborhoods Project
Rodney A. Jeung is an urban planner specializing in the environment. He went straight from George Washington High School to obtain a BA in economics from Stanford University, where he took an elective in Earth Sciences. On the advice of his professors, he dropped plans for a civil engineering career, earning a Master’s in Urban Planning and Regional Planning from Cornell in Ithaca, New York. Rodney’s career has included business development, financial management, HR and staff mentoring, and quality assurance for urban development and transit projects. Still professionally active after 43 years, he is a principal in an international firm, producing and directing environmental documentation for state and national jurisdictions.
Russell Mark Jueng is a sociologist who places his faith at the core of his work. Holding a BA in Human Biology and an MA in Education from Stanford University, as well as an MA and PhD in Sociology from UC Berkeley, he entered local politics early in his career—working as an assistant to Mayor Art Agnos1 and sitting on The City’s Complete Count Committee, which focused on the census, in the 1990s.2 Since 2002, Russell has been a professor at San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Department. He is most recently known for launching the campaign Stop AAPI Hate in March 2020 following a startling increase in anti-Asian crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic. For this work, he was named one of the 100 most influential people of 2021 by Time Magazine.
Family Origins
Rodney and Russell Jeung are the sons of Albert and Bernice Jeung. Rodney remembers, “My grandfather, G. Fong Jeung, was born in Monterey, so we're fourth generation. When we were growing up, we really didn’t hear very many stories, or at least I didn’t, about the first generation migrating from China to the US. What we did pick up is—and this is because Russell has taken a lot of interest in our family history as well as some of our other relatives—about how our grandfather lived in Monterey, his life there, the difficulties of discrimination he felt, and then the challenges that he had as an American citizen traveling to find our maternal grandmother and then to be able to return. Those were all difficult stories.”
Russell adds, “Yes, we didn't hear anything growing up. We found the immigration papers, so that's where we get most of our details from about the grandparents. There was a fishing village at Point Alones, so we assumed everybody was doing fishing. The women dried the abalone, and the immigration papers say that my great-grandfather was one of the largest shippers at the time. So, to bring a new wife over, the great-grandparents had to prove that my grandfather was an American citizen. But they didn't have any birth certificate, so they had to give an account of their store in Monterey. They also had to bring in two White witnesses to verify, and the White witnesses said that my great-grandfather was one of the largest shippers in the area at the time. The village had about two to three hundred Chinese at that time, at the turn of the century.”
Albert was a San Francisco native, born on January 24, 1926. He was a student at Washington Irving School in 1936 when he participated in a contest to come up with a slogan for San Francisco’s 18th annual Public Schools Week. The contest was sponsored by the citizens’ committee and Albert placed second with the slogan, “See our schools and watch us work.3” He enlisted in the U.S. Army from Camp Beale in Marysville, California on April 16, 1946. At the time, he was a student living with his parents at 738 ½ Washington Street in San Francisco.4 He was assigned as a Philippine Scout, serving for one year.5 He married Bernice Shue in Monterey on September 16, 1951. Russell remembered his maternal grandfather “was from the Lowe family but he took on the paper named Shue and came as the third brother—the other brothers were named Lowe actually. And then our grandparents resettled in Oakland, 1920s, and then moved to Los Angeles. So we have long stories; I wrote a book about it. It should be at the CHSA bookstore, called At Home in Exile.” Rodney added that they called their maternal grandmother, who later lived with them, Bo Bo.”
Soon thereafter, the young couple moved into a home at 510 12th Avenue in the Richmond District in 1952. Rodney remembers, “My parents, after getting married, actually had moved into an apartment on Broadway and Powell, but then the family all came together when they purchased this place, it’s the same house I actually live in now with the same furniture pretty much. The houses, I'd say, are rather nondescript and typical of most homes in the Richmond District. It’s on a postage stamp-sized lot, about 2,500 square feet. It was a whopping $13,000 at that time. That's only three zeros behind that purchase price, something that's unheard of right now.”
Prior to the Jueng’s owning the home, it had been on the market for a majority of 1949.6 “As far as I know, he purchased it directly. I don't know if he had like a real estate broker but they bought from a Mrs. Herschberg: it was interesting.7 I did ask my mom before this interview how they happened to choose something that was so far away from Chinatown, because she was explaining to us that at that time there were places along California or Parker Avenue, near where my mom lives now, where Chinese weren't allowed to purchase a home. So I have no idea how we ended up here in the Richmond. There weren't very many other Chinese families to speak of, there was maybe one up the block.
“They used a veteran’s loan to get it and they purchased it because my grandfather had passed away. There were seven siblings who still lived in the house and needed accommodation, so my parents bought this place and then moved the entire set of siblings, my uncles and aunts from Chinatown where they lived on Washington Street. It was quite crowded with all of my seven uncles and aunts, my parents, my grandmother—so fortunately we’re able to get this three- bedroom house with a sunroom that all of us were able to squeeze into.” Funny enough, an advertisement for the home in 1949 read, “Are you crowded in your present home? Large 3-bedroom home plus sunroom, plus breakfast room, recently decorated and in excellent condition. Large yard. Close in, convenient to shops, schools, trans[portation]. Owner will sacrifice.8
Rodney Jeung at 510 12th Avenue shortly after his birth. (Courtesy of the Jeung family)
Rodney Jeung at 510 12th Avenue at his first birthday. (Courtesy of the Jeung family)
In total, the Jeungs would have three children: Rodney, Sandra and Russell. Rodney, the oldest, was born on January 11, 1954.9 He remembered, “I will say we did have a Leave It to Beaver existence growing up, with my parents, my maternal grandmother, Susie Shue, and then my brother and my sister Sandy—oh, and a canary and a goldfish—until my parents realized I was allergic to feathers and fish. I remember that almost all of our meals were American fare: we would have hamburgers or attempts at meatloaf, or roast beef with brown gravy, and canned vegetables came along with it so we never had anything that was particularly fresh or tasty. My grandmother used to like serving us carrot soup, which we hated. It was supposed to be good for our eyesight. But all of us have glasses, so I don't know what happened. I guess I could say our eyesight would have been worse if we didn't have that carrot soup. Or we would have our treat like ham and pineapple. It was always served with rice and topped off with a cup of tea at the end of the meal. But none of those things are necessarily requiring an Asian grocery store.”
Rodney Jeung in the backyard of 510 12th Avenue. (Courtesy of the Jeung family)
Sandra was born on October 20, 1959,10 and Russell, December 23, 1963.11 Rodney also remembers “taking walks with my grandmother and her metal shopping cart. We would stroll towards Clement Street, but I don't know that we ever picked up anything other than the meats at the Petrini’s, which used to be on Seventh Avenue where Smart & Final is now. Then we would go to the local corner store, which was owned by a Chinese businessman—Joe’s—and we’d pick up daily essentials like bread or milk when needed. But other than that, I don’t remember shopping in Chinatown.”
Lick’s Super Market at 350 7th Avenue, seen here with an inset of Frank J. Petrini in 1952. This was the market’s third anniversary. (Courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library)
The Petrini family actually operated the meat market inside Lick’s Super Market at 350 7th Avenue. According to Frank Dunnigan, the Petrini family also operated the meat department at the Sunset Super on Irving Street, as well as opening Petrini Plaza on Fulton Street and Masonic Avenue before taking over Quality Foods, Incorporated in Stonestown.12
The only Chinese food Russell remembers was “take out. They didn’t cook Chinese. But we would have roast duck,” which Rodney thought was likely from Chinatown. “Maybe someone that my dad did the books for or something,” he said. Russell continued, “I guess we would always just shop in Chinatown. My mom would always have Chinese snacks, too, for the road, like the dried plums, and then ginger and stuff, so I guess she would get those in Chinatown. I guess we didn’t shop Chinese on Clement Street. So it wasn't so much the shopping as you pointed out, Steve, or anything that we got locally. I mean our Chinese fixes came from going to the restaurants in Chinatown, which we did on a weekly basis, and that was our Chinese fix.
“We were pretty much expected to perform chores at home. So aside from the typical ‘make your own bed and clean up after yourself,’ most of our chores revolved around the kitchen,” Rodney said. “We either had to set the table for meals, wipe the table afterwards, help dry the dishes, and sweep the floor of the kitchen or the breakfast room where we always had our meals.”
Rodney remembered, “Growing up, everything was English. The only Chinese that we heard was that from my grandmother and when she speaks it’s a different dialect than most in Chinatown speak. She spoke Longdu. I actually picked up some words and phrases from her, as did my cousins, so there was a little bit of understanding. But sometime around kindergarten for me it was decided—and I don't know how—that my parents thought I needed to go to Chinese School, that it was just the thing to do. And that was something that was probably one of the most resentful periods of my life.
“I definitely recall two specific things about Chinese school: I was pretty much a delinquent, I remember climbing on the classroom floor towards my teacher and padlocking him to his chair, which prompted a visit from that teacher to my family home and a conversation with my parents later that evening about how I could have been raised a wild and outrageous child. So that was one memory.
“The second one had to do with me playing hooky from Chinese school, which was every day after normal school, pretty much from 3:30 to 5:30,” he continued. “I played hooky and I played basketball with my friends. My dad found out about it and it was one of those times he decided I really needed a severe spanking. Now, I actually believed he was quite proud of me for playing hooky; that was the kind of thing he would have done and bragged about. But what it allowed us to do between the two of us was to bargain. He said that once I started junior high I could stop going to Chinese School. Fortunately, we didn’t have to travel to Chinatown; our Chinese classes were provided by local churches in the Richmond District. So I went to St. James Episcopal on California Street for a couple years and then to Chinese Grace Baptist Church over on 10th Avenue and Balboa.”
Balboa & 10th Ave, 1949.
Muni 31-streetcar #970 passing 900 Balboa, later Chinese Grace Baptist Church, in 1949. (wnp5.50925; Courtesy of Jack Tillmany)
Chinese Grace Baptist Church was organized in 196813 in a building constructed by well-known local developer Joseph Leonard as a residence for the prominent attorney Daniel O’Connell and his wife at 900 Balboa Street.14 The year he built the home, O’Connell also organized the Richmond Heights Improvement Association, which intended to improve the area between 9th and 13th Avenues, Anza Street and Golden Gate Park. The first meeting as well as subsequent meetings were held at 900 Balboa Street.15 Of the Southern Baptist Convention denomination, its opening was part of a larger movement that saw a steady increase in the number of Chinese congregations in the San Francisco Bay Area. “The 1960s began to witness an even greater geographical dispersion of the Chinese. Thirteen new churches were established during this period: seven in San Francisco…Aside from the dispersion of the Chinese population from Chinatown proper beginning in earnest in the 1950s, the number of Chinese in the United States was also increasing significantly over the decades: 1950 (120,000), 1960 (237,000), 1970 (435,0-00), 1980 (806,000) and more than 1.6 million according to the 1990 census.16
Rodney continued, “For six years I tried to learn—when I wasn't being a delinquent—Chinese, but it was just all memorization because we were given lesson books. It meant nothing to me because I couldn't understand why the written language was different from the spoken language. It was hard. Because my parents didn’t speak it at home, nothing was ever reinforced. And then my grandmother, who is the only one who spoke Chinese to us, was speaking a different dialect and so I really resented it. It's amazing. I think one of your questions was do I remember anything from those days. Aside from the painful lessons and delinquency, I can pick up a paper these days and read a few words but it is mostly here’s a word and then something, something, something, here’s another word then something, something, something, something. I'll never have a full grasp on what these sentences or paragraphs means, but a few characters here and there.”
Russell was spared mandatory attendance at Chinese school because he was part of an early group of San Francisco students involved in race-integration bussing. Rodney remembered, “Russell went to more schools than I did in my entire life just through grammar school.” Russell said, “Yeah, the bus life was big for me. I was getting bussed, and then taking public transit. It was fine. I just had to wake up early to go to school, but I didn’t have to go to Chinese school because of it: that was a big thing. And actually, it’s sort of widened my friend group, so I still have friends from each individual school.”
It was when Rodney’s parents sent him to Chinese school that Rodney decided he would attend church, as well. “My parents did not go to church so it wouldn’t have been a religious organization. Around that same young age they got my grandmother to take me to a local Zion Lutheran Church over at 9th Avenue and Anza Street. I went there dutifully every Sunday and basically had fun because I was hearing Bible stories and I was singing and I was saying prayers to some higher being that I really didn’t know.”
Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church at 9th Avenue and Anza Street in 1964. A note on file says, “In 1950 the former building on this site was moved to 10th and Cabrillo and became Park Presidio Baptist.” (Courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library)
Russell also attended Zion until “another church moved closer so we went to the closer church” on Funston Avenue, he remembered. Rodney continued, “There's a big age gap between us; I’m nine years older than Russell and six years older than my sister. It’s pretty interesting how each of us, my brother, sister and I, are rather different in that regard. Both my brother and sister are very religious, they’re very active and participate in their respective churches, places of worship. But for us growing up, there was nothing at home in terms of religious training; there was no discussion of a higher being, a God or any other deity. Once in a blue moon, my mom would take me to a Catholic mass and I would sit politely on the pew and then, standing up and sitting down without knowing why I was sitting down and standing up.”
Rodney said, “One set of religious rites that we did observe was, annually, we would go out to the Chinese cemetery up by Serramonte to pay respects to the ancestors, to the relatives. But I didn’t really attach any religious connotation to it; it was really just paying respects to our relatives. And then there were the typical offerings of food. Of course there was food! After my first couple of years of being conscious of anything, I don't remember going to the cemetery, so it may have just been for a couple of years.”
Russell doesn’t “remember going to the cemetery. Maybe once up a hill but that was it.” Rodney continued, “There were occasions, again really young, traipsing through Chinatown and stopping at some of the temples to burn incense. I don't recall it being anything particularly regular or routine at all, it was just “Wow this stuff smells funny and I’m watching my dad bow three times, and I don't understand anything about this.”
As Rodney said, their family was traditionally midcentury in many respects but there was one way in which they were “maybe a little bit unusual” for the time: Rodney and Russell had two working parents. “Both of our parents graduated from college and had professional jobs. Mom worked as an x-ray technician, she basically held that job for 40 years, working for a doctor in the downtown area, 450 Sutter. Steve mentioned a little bit earlier that my dad was an accountant. He started off with a merchandise company and then decided to form a discount furniture store in Chinatown with three partners. It was named Dale Company after the first names of each of the partners, on Jackson Street between Kearney and Grant. So the A was our dad Al, and then he stayed there for a while before going over to the State Division of Corporations. Throughout all of that time he was also providing financial and real estate accounting services to businesses, family, friends, etc.
“Al was an enrolled agent, and in his words, CPA stands for Chinese public accountant. He wasn’t a certified public accountant. Dad did pretty much work all the time Monday through Saturday, and then when he came home in the evening he would retire to the basement, smoke his pipe, and continue to work on all sorts of financial spreadsheets by hand. My mom also went down on Saturdays, working at the company helping to sell small appliances and things like that. Growing up that was where I spent a lot of my Saturdays because my parents were both there.
“My friends became mattresses, sofas, tables, chairs and lamps. I didn't venture too far from the store but I would parade around Chinatown, go into one of the restaurants that we tended to go to pretty frequently, sally up to the counters, and ask for a glass of water. Sometimes we'd ask for a cherry with the water and we would get that but there was no other conversation. The waiters knew me so they were happy to serve me. Yeah, that was our life.”
Rodney continued, “I do remember—something that probably would never ever happen again these days—is that my uncle who also worked at Dale company, would make deliveries. They had a large pickup truck with large fences along the perimeters of the bed in the back, so I got to ride in the back, help them push the furniture out or try to push the furniture out without hurting myself, like mattresses and chairs and things that they were delivering. That was fun.”
Also on Saturdays, Rodney would go to Donaldina Cameron House. “I had different groups of friends, and on Saturdays we discovered Cameron House. I don't remember how we discovered it or how we got introduced to it. Maybe it was one of my friends growing up, but every Saturday we would go to Cameron House where it was really more places of play. There were group activities, we were learning how to do these really cool braided paralaces, we were preparing games and prizes for the annual carnival, and then we also got to go and explore around Chinatown. So it was not at all a religious place for us. But that was part of its foundations and part of its institution, so I'm sure there were occasions, there were times when we would have a time of reflection, a prayer, but it was pretty much secondary to play time and making cool things.”
But it wasn’t all fun and games. Rodney remembered, “There was always an expectation that we should work; it helped that my parents had connections so we could work, save some money to go to college. There was a whole myriad of jobs. I had a paper route; I worked in my mom's 450 Sutter Medical Building delivering dental molds for a dental office. My parents had bought an apartment building off of Sacramento Street, so I did clean-up work there on weekends, either vacuuming or dusting or emptying garbage, things like that. My aunt, one who had lived in our house when I was growing up, opened up a beauty salon nearby and I would go there and clean the salon. And then when we got a little bit older there were things that we were able to do, you know, maybe a little bit further away. So again, due to my parents or my dad's connections, there was the work at the post office during the Christmas season and things like—oh, one year he decided I needed to toughen up. He got me a job on a construction site where I found out how accident prone I actually am and managed to hurt myself pretty much every week.”
The family’s furniture business allowed them to capitalize on the Chinese American migration to the west side. Russell remembered, “It was good timing for the company. In the 1960s, people were beginning to move out of Chinatown into the Richmond, Sunset, and Daly City. And that's why Dale Company had good business, because they were moving into the middle class. My dad wanted to provide decent furniture, and I don't know how good it is, but we still have the furniture.” Rodney added, “The premise of the business was to not necessarily sell just to Chinese in the Chinatown area, but it was to provide a discount lower price furniture so it was appealing. My dad had worked in Chinatown, all the partners worked and lived in Chinatown, so they were known to the community, trusted by community, and they apparently got great prices.”
Rodney: “Because my dad and his family’s roots in Chinatown, because of Dale company, and because he played on that famous San Francisco Saints basketball team, the amateur traveling road show of Chinese players, he was pretty well-known.” The Chinese Cultural Center presented an exhibition on the Saints in May 1999. The team was organized by a Catholic priest at Old St. Mary’s named Reverend Donal Forrester (hence the name “Saints”), who “wanted to show people there is another side to Chinese culture,” according to one of the players interviewed by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Carl Nolte in 1999.17 The team played throughout California as part of the Amateur Athletic Union League. The team did quite well, eventually touring the country and then on a State Department tour of Asia in 1956.
Russell adds that they were called “the S Boys, which was like a club, a sports club. They stayed friends and we would go to their picnics.” Rodney continued. “Basketball would’ve been a little bit different, he was quite proud of it. And as Russell said, the S Boys, all of whom who grew up and were all part of that cohort affiliated somehow either through the Saints’ basketball or through their college dances or get-togethers.” Russell chimed in again, “And they still go on cruises together. My mom, who is 94, still hangs out with them.” Rodney continued, “The others are all around the same age cohort. The younger ones are in their upper 80s. My mom was at the upper end; maybe one or two might be like 95 or 96.”
Professionally and socially, the Jeung family’s connection to Chinatown was strong and this also translated to other services. Russell said, “We had to get glasses all the time so that’s what I remember going to Chinatown for,” and “for braces it was my mom’s building at 450 Sutter,” said Rodney. And their father likely belonged to community groups in the neighborhood. Rodney: “I think it was almost natural and expected that he be a member of some of the Chinese benevolent societies and associations. I do remember growing up going to these huge banquets at these associations at Chinese New Years, or receiving really cheesy gifts from Chinese Santa Claus at Christmas time, and other events like that.”
However, the Jueng kids often spent holidays out of town. Rodney remembered, “I mean growing up with both of my parents still at work, a lot of the extended holidays from school like during the Christmas holiday or over summer was off to spend with my cousins. So I was either going to be shipped down to Southern California or over to Hayward, and it’s actually there that I learned how to ride a bicycle, swim, and pitch hay on my uncle's dairy.”
Growing Up Richmond
Rodney: “At the time, the neighborhood was predominantly Russian, there were a lot of Jewish. I remember going to grammar school over at Argonne and being in quite a melting pot. There were a number of Asians, there were several Blacks, and there were a number of Caucasians. Even from the beginning it was fairly diverse. It was nothing that I was particularly conscious of growing up. I mean I just sort of played with our next door neighbors—they were White—and it didn’t really matter one way or the other to me.
“I had like three circles of friends. One cohort was the one from school and that was quite diverse. Although upon reflection, I'm looking back on who my childhood friends were through elementary school: they were all Asian, pretty much. So when I went to Cameron House and the group that went to Cameron House was predominately from Chinatown, but also coming in from some of the outlying districts like Richmond District. So it was a different cohort, it was a group that did not mix with my school friends except there was one, and I think he was the one who introduced me to Cameron House. But it was just a different fun group to play with and interact with.”
Running in similar circles, Russell also remembers a similar make-up to his friends; he said, “I had Cameron House friends, school friends, church friends. Probably more Asians. I think I noticed Asian influx by the time I got to high school.”
Since their father was “an avid sports fan,” the Jeung brothers were interested in sports from a young age. Russell said, “The 49ers were big; it was a big Richmond District thing for me.” Rodney said, “It was always about baseball, or particularly the Giants. My heroes were like Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal. And football as well. We would always have tickets through Dale Company to the 49ers’ games, so we would go to see those. As far as being active in sports, that was probably one of my childhood pastimes and that's one of the reasons why I got into it with my dad: I wanted to play basketball rather than go to Chinese school. Growing up, it was all about playing baseball with my friends, playing football either after school when I wasn’t in Chinese school, or on the weekends. A little bit later on towards middle school and high school, it became much more about basketball and bowling. But it was always informal; it was always just with friends. I think the only time I tried or did join a team was starting at middle school when I went out for track.
“Playing baseball with my friends was always at their house or in a backyard; basketball was at the local playground. There is the playground on 18th Avenue and Anza or at the middle school, Presidio, or Washington High School. Football, at the younger age we would always go up to Golden Gate Park area or we would play on the lawn that used to be in front of the Richmond Library. Bowling, we used to have the bowling alley on 6th Avenue and Clement, so we would go there. Now that's been replaced by the Bank of the Orient and some parking lots next to the little Vietnamese sandwich place.”
6th Ave near Geary, circa 1948.
Muni 4-line #215 passing Lincoln Bowl on 6th Avenue near Clement Street around 1948. (wnp27.4036; Courtesy of a Private Collector)
Lincoln Bowl at 319 6th Avenue started out as a neighborhood theatre called the New Richmond and later the Lincoln Theater, until it closed in 1940.18 It was opened as Lincoln Bowl by Charles “Chuck” P. Marquard with a “giant mural by Don Clever” and twelve alleys on January 24, 1941.19 It was a progressive alley for its time: hosting the Chinese West Coast bowling tournament from August 31-September 120 and launching the first women’s daylight league in San Francisco the year it opened.21 In fact, newspaper accounts beginning in December 194122 show that the San Francisco Chinese Club routinely played the Lincoln Bowl team. Although it closed periodically to resurface the lanes, a fire in June 1945 caused an estimated $20,000 in damages and forced a temporary closure. Then owned by Julian Freidman and managed by Josephine “Josie” Bozzini,23 who had been an instructor at Lincoln Bowl since 1941,24 it was lamented that local league bowlers would be “homeless” for the duration.25 But it was back in action shortly, redecorated by A.E Gordon Painting Company and reopening on August 25, 1945.26 This was good timing, capitalizing on a post-World War II boom in bowling that saw many alleys open 24 hours a day to reach demand. By the time the Jeungs were bowling there in the 1960s, the proprietor was Bill Baioni and Lincoln Bowl was managed by Norm Vogel.27 League actions and events at Lincoln Bowl were consistently covered in local newspapers through the 1960s,28 but the beloved bowling alley would close in 1973 amidst neighborhood protest. At the time, the “everybody” sport was not as popular as it was once and alleys were closing throughout San Francisco;29 Mission Bowl folded in March 1973 and Bagdad Lanes, which started on Ellis Street in 1933 but had been in the Sunset District for 20 years, announced its closure in May 1974.30
Baioni lost his lease at the end of 1973 when the property was sold and plans were announced that the new owner intended to demolish Lincoln Bowl, replacing it with a bank. Richmond District leaders and residents protested the plan to get rid of the only bowling alley “in their part of the city.31” The Associate Pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Church and the Principal of Washington High School weighed in on the lack of recreation opportunities for kids in the neighborhood. Hoover Chin, the real estate agent representing the property’s buyers, said his clients could be willing to sell it to a neighborhood group interested in turning the building into a community center. Lincoln Bowl closed on December 22, 1973, and plans moved ahead to build a bank.32 Baioni was forced to move his equipment into storage after operating Lincoln Bowl since 1958 and he took over Broadway Van Ness Bowl.33
In January 1974, Bank of the Orient was denied a permit to build a branch on Lincoln Bowl’s site. The State Department of Banking officially announced that the “public convenience would not be served” by a bank branch at this location, but another source within the agency said that neighborhood opposition was a deciding factor along with other financial calculations. Clarence Poon, a Bank of the Orient official, said they had not decided whether they would make changes to the permit and reapply.34 And in April 1974, the new federally chartered United Federal Savings and Loan Association opened its temporary quarters at 319 6th Avenue before moving permanently to Clement Street in June.35
Interior views of the slot car racetrack at Playland at the Beach in February 1966. (Photos by Robert Durden, courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library)
Interior views of the slot car racetrack at Playland at the Beach in February 1966. (Photos by Robert Durden, courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library)
Otherwise, they would hang out in the neighborhood. Rodney remembered, “We went to Playland at the Beach when it was still there and then my friends would go to the slot car racing venue that was set up after Playland closed.” The slot car racetrack opened in one of the oldest buildings along Great Highway in 1965 during what was the last gasp of San Francisco’s seaside amusement zone before its demolition in 1972. It only operated for two years, closing in 1968. Nick Wand, whose mother was hired by Playland’s proprietor, George Whitney, as interior decorator for the racetrack, remembered it well.:
“In the slot car building the smell of warming plastic, electricity, and soldering irons mixed with a constant background whine of electric motors accelerating. Loudspeakers played KFRC along with ads for Gensler Lee diamond engagement rings or clothing from Macy’s between the three-minute songs, which always had a beginning, middle, and end. Donovan’s Mellow Yellow was popular the month we first entered the slot car temple. Some little kid walked around repeating the lyrics and was laughed at by an older guy. Because we were still boys, we thought it was important to call each other ‘Man.’
"You paid escalating amounts for time on the smallest black track, then the larger red, orange, yellow or the biggest most expensive blue track, which was where the real pros raced their cars. If you didn’t get there early enough, you were left with only the yellow or orange track with their lower banks and smaller size. The slot cars had electric motors powered by flat pickup brushes on either side of a swiveling plastic wedge under the front of the car that followed a slot running down the middle of your lane. By squeezing the trigger on a rented blue pistol-grip controller, you applied more power to the copper strips on your lane and the faster your car traveled.
"The cars were either store-bought, like ours, or were exotic things custom-made by clever fellows with great skills who were older and had money.36
Rodney continued, “I don’t remember even going to Rossi Swimming Pool except to take the test when we had to prove that we could swim in order to graduate from high school. Recreation was always going up to Golden Gate Park and riding around on our bicycles or playing football. Actually I never had a bicycle until junior high, so I’d borrow my friend's bicycle to go to Golden Gate Park. Which was something that was an innocent and carefree time, because we really didn’t have to worry about security, or the dangers of the safety and security that you might now. Any parent would allow their child to go off on their own like that, you had a lot of freedom to just run around like that.”
At one point, Russell asked Rodney a “teenage question” about gangs in the neighborhood. “So you had Joe Boys in the Richmond, were your friends involved or were there any issues with immigrant kids and the American ones?” Rodney responded, “It actually happened a little bit later for us: late 1960s, early 1970s. After the Immigration Act of 1965. There were some of the restaurants that were frequented by the gangs and had gang incidents, like Golden Dragon, but that was a little bit later. Actually, what was interesting growing up was by the time we went to high school, there was a real strong division between those who were born here—the ABCs—and the foreign born. There was trouble in school. I wouldn’t say it was different gangs, I would say it was different types of Chinese who were at the school and the tension that occurred between American-born and foreign-born. I had one friend beaten up in the football stands at Washington High School. I think we were warned, or our parents suggested, that maybe we carry like a roll of nickels or coins in our fists in case we ever got into a fight and I had to use it to strike someone, which of course I never would. I’ve never been in a fight. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself after that. Run! Actually, that’s why I went out for track; I thought I could run fast. We were very, well, pacifists; we did not get into controversial adversarial situations.”
Rodney continued, “I think all of my friends were American-born. I mean this is where I’m really different from Russell and Sandy. I was pretty much socially stunted, so most of the friends that I had from junior high or middle school are the same ones I socialize with now, although less frequently. But as we call ourselves the gang that gets together at Christmas time to celebrate, well, growing up we would celebrate our kids’ birthdays and things like that. So the circle of friends really didn't expand too much more. I didn't keep in touch with other friends beyond those that were formed in junior high. I mean it has expanded to the extent that each of us got married, so it's a larger group now”.
Russell wasn’t able to avoid the gangs like his brother. “I got beat up by gangs in Chinatown. So I actually want to know, in the 1970s there was the whole Civil Rights movement and the environmental movement, so were you insulated with your stunted social life and Chinatown world? How much did the environmental and Civil Rights movements impact what was going on? You know because it was pretty big back then.”
Rodney responded, “It was huge but I'm pretty apolitical, so I was pretty much oblivious to most of it. The closest that we got to it was when the International Hotel37 was being taken down. Manila town across the street from Kearney, where our dad used to work, there were protests and riots. My girlfriend at the time got very active in that and she would participate in group activities and the protest. It was something that my dad really didn't appreciate, didn’t care for; thought she was pretty leftist and pretty much disapproved of her. But that was probably my only brush with it. The environmental movement might have influenced me because of my career, but in terms of any kind of activism growing up, particularly in the Richmond or Chinatown, it didn’t really manifest itself.”
The Vietnam War, omnipresent at the time, was not really discussed in the Jeung home. “We never had those kinds of conversations growing up,” Rodney said. Although “when I got my draft card, my father was pretty much ready to send me across the border up to Canada.” When Russell asked if this was due to his disapproval of the war, Rodney deferred. “I think he was just protecting me because he didn’t want me injured or worse in a conflict. I don't know whether he felt there was any justice in that conflict.” Perhaps it was his status as a veteran that moved Albert to protect his son, but Russell added, “I think after the Japanese bombing, I heard my dad and his second oldest brother were sent to Gilroy for safety, to protect the first sons. So I’m thinking my dad wanted to do the same thing for my brother and protect the first son, or because he was against the war. It could have been both, but he had that experience of moving to avoid war.”
Although their parents didn’t discuss politics, Russell and Rodney remember him discussing discrimination. Rodney remembered, “He would talk about his experiences growing up and how we have to fight that. And then I kind of witnessed it—kind of the reverse discrimination—when he would sit across the street from the apartment building that I cleaned on Sacramento and he would observe who would approach at the appointed time to rent one of the units. He would make a snap decision based on appearances, whether he was going to go in and meet that individual, so it was kind of interesting.”
Russell added, “Our own building was by Polk Street and that was when the gay community was growing, so that’s what I remember.” Together, they agreed that he wasn’t homophobic, just “very insulated.” Although Russell said “there was a gay couple who moved in on Anza behind the house and my Mom didn’t approve. But this was in the 1970s, so it was pretty early.”
Overall, Rodney remembered “The neighborhood was pretty much the same as it is now. The city’s urban forestry program has allowed us to plant more trees on the sidewalk so it's a little bit different. Probably the biggest changes—probably in the 1960s or ‘70s—it became known as a second Chinatown. Growing up, it's all been pretty much stable; we've seen neighbors come and go, we’ve seen families move in and out, but the amazing thing about the Richmond district is its diversity and the variety of different ethnicities, along with all of the foods and restaurants.”
Chinese-owned restaurants they remember are Joe’s on 12th and Geary and Mike’s Chinese Cuisine on Geary. “The one restaurant where we would eat,” Russell remembered. “It’s a Shanghai restaurant now,” according to Rodney. This small neighborhood restaurant showcases the demographic evolution the Richmond District perfectly. Starting out as a beauty parlor, 5145 Geary Boulevard was a restaurant in owned by Gene Massa in 196138 and a small Russian restaurant called The Troika that opened on July 4, 1963.39 The restaurant was owned by Nick and Olga Karapetianz, a “White Russian couple who left Russia in 1918 and, after managing restaurants in China, Brazil and Canada, came to San Francisco [in 1957] so they could have a place of their own.” They first ran a small restaurant called The Honeydew and expanded by popular demand. Since the restaurant opened, Nick and Olga worked tirelessly, taking no vacations and walking home each night to their residence at 422 27th Avenue “in order to save every penny and pay off the bank loan which they set up their business.” On December 6, 1964, a “Closed for Vacation” sign appeared in the window and regulars thought the couple had finally taken time off. In reality, Nick had been the victim of a violent mugging and was recuperating after several surgeries at nearby UCSF.40 The restaurant continued for a time after this incident, but was gone by the early 1970s.41
The first time we see reference to Mike’s Chinese Cuisine is in Herb Caen’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle in April 1977.42 A San Francisco Examiner article by Patricia Unterman from 1980 titled “Adventurous Chinese Eating Challenges the Taste Buds” described Mike’s:
“Mike’s Chinese Cuisine has long been a favorite of San Franciscans. As its Westernized name suggests, its Cantonese menu is a compendium of Chinese-American favorites like sweet and sour pork, egg rolls, wonton soup and chicken with cashews…The food is easy to eat. Nothing much challenges the tastebuds by way of spices or ingredients. When you feel like eating this type of food, Mike’s is the place to go for it, and many do. I have never been to Mike’s when it hasn’t been full.
"The other evening, after a half hour wait in the entryway (the small bar area was too crowded, four of us, including the China Expert, were seated at a large linened table. Looking around the room, we noticed an eclectic group of people. Several large Chinese families were eating whole steamed fish and gorgeous, burnished skinned ducks, items we couldn’t find on the menu. Smaller groups of non-Chinese were eating from smaller plates of readily recognizable dishes.43
Mike’s closed sometime between 1998 and 2006, the restaurant’s most recent incarnation has been Old Shang Hai Restaurant.
Sixty years later, the Dale Company is still thriving and the Jeung family home at 12th Avenue is still in the Jeung family. When Albert Jeung passed away on June 19, 2005, he left behind a large and thriving family. Services commemorating his life were held at San Francisco Bible Church at 498 Funston Avenue near Anza.44
37. "The Battle for the International Hotel," by James Sobredo, FoundSF.org
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