Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The First Chinese Restaurants Outside Boston (Part 2--Pittsfield & Malden)

Where were these first Chinese restaurants located? When did they first open? Did they have difficulties in the cities and towns where they were situated? What are their stories?

I've previously written a five-part series, The First Restaurants In Boston's Chinatownand I'm now expanding my coverage to include the rest of Massachusetts. This is a work in progress, and I'll be adding additional cities and towns in the future parts of this new series. The first article dealt with Cambridge and Fitchburg, and now this second article deals with Pittsfield and Malden.


Maybe the first thought to open a Chinese restaurant in Pittsfield was in 1903, though it didn't lead to anything concrete. The Berkshire Eagle, August 27, 1903, reported that two out of town Chinese men had visited the city for several days, considering opening a Chinese restaurant. However, it seemed that many landlords were opposed to the idea and it didn't seem a suitable building could be found for the restaurant.

However, it seems matters changed a year or so later. The Berkshire Eagle, December 6, 1904, stated that construction workers were preparing a Chinese restaurant, on the second floor of a building next to an apartment building at the Burbank block on North Street. It was thought the restaurant would be ready to open in about 2 weeks.

And the December 12, 1904 newspaper reported that the Chinese restaurant, at 41 North Street, above Cooley's grocery store, was now open, every day from 4pm-2am. That same newspaper, maybe an issue later in the day, explained a bit more, noting that the owner was Soy Hong Low, and that the restaurant would server all kinds of Chinese dishes, priced from 10 cents to $1.50.

The restaurant was an apparent success. The Berkshire Eagle, March 28, 1905, mentioned that the restaurant, which has been open for 3 months, has been successful, and noted, “The place is nicely appointed with linoleum covered floors and oak tables and chairs and the walls are decorated with appropriate Chinese pictures. The bill of fare was published in the Eagle recently.” I haven't been able to locate that bill of fare though.

Despite this apparent success, The Berkshire Eagle, September 13, 1907, reported that the restaurant closed after a few months. In addition, that article mentioned that a couple other Chinese men were in town, hoping to soon open a chop suey restaurant on West Street, with plans to place a large electrical sign in front of the restaurant.

Strangely, Hin Gaw, one of the owners of the proposed Chinese restaurant on West Street suddenly fled to China. The Berkshire Eagle, October 25, 1907, mentioned that just a week before, Hin Gaw had married a young Scotch girl. Hin Gaw then sold all of his property, including a laundry, to other Chinese, and returned to China, without his new bride. No one gave an explanation for his actions.

About six months later, The Berkshire Eagle, March 12, 1908, reported that Gaw Tang, Gaw Hing & Co. would take possession of the Chinese & American restaurant at 106 West Street. on March 23.

A new Chinese spot. The Berkshire Eagle, March 31, 1910, noted that Chinese proprietors were renovating a building at 93 Eagle Street to become a Chinese restaurant. Very few details were provided.

The Butter Police? The Berkshire Eagle, February 29, 1912, reported, “Gaw Ten, owner of Chinese restaurant on West St, was fined $10 for the lesser offense of serving oleomargarine to guests without giving the notice required by the state dairy bureau.” Inspector Lombard said that this was a very uncommon fraud, and he must enforce it, despite him believing that city is relatively free of fraud of passing oleo off as butter. That is the law, even though Lombard personally believes that "oleo is practically the same as butter."

And some trouble at the other Chinese restaurant. The Berkshire Eagle, May 27, 1912, reported that the police were called to the Chinese restaurant on Eagle Street on Saturday night at about midnight. Apparently, a drunk man entered the restaurant, carrying several bottles of beer, and one of the waitresses tried to take them away from him. He refused to surrender them and the waitress threw a bottle of ketchup at him, starting a fight. The drunk man, who was over six feet tall, knocked over the waitress and a couple other people, before he left. There was allegedly another earlier incident too where the waitress was again involved in a fight with another woman.

Unfortunately, these incidents were far too common at this place. “The restaurant of late has become a gathering place for people of ill repute and a number of interesting incidents have happened there late at night.” In addition, it was noted, “The Chinamen who frequent the place have not won great popularity from their neighbors. One Chinaman, who has been obnoxious to the public so much that the police have kept a watch on him, was seen coming from the restaurant a few days ago in company with the white waitress and toying with a revolver which he took from his pocket.” There weren't any subsequent newspaper mentions of this restaurant so it possibly may have closed soon after this incident.

A new Chinese restaurant! The Berkshire Eagle, August 21, 1917, discussed a new Chinese-American restaurant, operated by Chung Wah & Co.  Frank Chu, a high school graduate of Manchester, New Hampshire, will be in charge of the restaurant and Tom Lee, a well known local Chinese, will also be involved. The place will have three dining rooms and there will be glass doors leading to the kitchen, so patrons can watch their food being prepared. There will be a cigar stand in the main dining room, and all of the waiters, except for one young lad, will be men.

A complimentary banquet was recently held for city officials, newspapermen, and local business men. The menu included Rice & Chicken Soup, Chicken Chow Mein, Fruit Salad, Sweet Lobster Saute, Fricasseed Boneless Chicken, Marble Ice Cream, Cake, Coffee, Tea, Preserved Chinese Oranges, Ginger Fruit, Cigars, and Cigarettes. “The menu, composed of rich Chinese dishes, perfectly cooked and served was a rare treat to the guests.”

The Berkshire Eagle, August 21, 1917, printed an advertisement for the new Chung Wah & Co. restaurant, located at 21 North Street. Regular dinner was offered for 30 cents, and Dinner for 50 cents. Most of the food in the ad though is American, not Chinese, cuisine.

However, The Berkshire Eagle, August 27, 1917, mentioned that Chung Wah & Co. was forced to temporarily close to make repairs. It would reopen on September 5, after the completion of repairs, which included some plumbing issues.

The Berkshire Eagle, September 12, 1918, presented a new ad for Chung Wah & Co. and it is clear they were trying to attract white women, to come in after shopping or the theater.

Another new Chinese restaurant. The Berkshire Eagle, November 15, 1919, printed an ad for a new "American and Chinese Oriental Restaurant" at 76 West Street. Only 35 cents for their Regular Dinner.

Thanksgiving dinner! The Berkshire Eagle, November 23, 1920, posted an ad for Chung Wah & Co., offering a Thanksgiving, multi-course dinner special for $1.25. There was an entree choice of either Roast Vermont Turkey, with Walnut Dressing and Cranberry Sauce, or Turkey Subgum Chow Mein Nanking Style.

Christmas dinner! The Berkshire Eagle, December 24, 1923, posted an ad for Chung Wah & Co., offering a Christmas, multi-course dinner special for $1.00 or $1.25, dependent on your entree. Entrees included: Roast Vermont Spring Turkey, Fried Spring Chicken, and Turkey Chop Suey.

A brief picture of the Chinese community in Pittsfield was presented in The Berkshire Eagle, February 8, 1932. “In Pittsfield there are approximately 30 Chinese including one woman and five children. The majority of those are engaged in the laundry business while others conduct the Chinese restaurant." Almost all of them come from Canton or Hong Kong. Seid T. Woo, the manager of the Chung Wah & Co. restaurant, is the spokesmen for the local Chinese community.

A sudden disappearance! The Berkshire Eagle, August 11, 1932, reported that the Chung Wah restaurant was mysteriously vacated overnight several weeks ago. No explanation was given. The property was recent purchased at sheriff’s auction and it will become an American & Italian restaurant.

Seven years without a Chinese restaurant. The Berkshire Eagle, May 12, 1939, noted that Pittsfield would soon have a Chinese restaurant again. A group of Chinese restaurant owners from Taunton have been renovating the Waite Building at 342 North Street to create a new Chinese restaurant, which may open on June 1. The restaurant will be named China Clipper.

The Berkshire Eagle, March 26, 1940, posted an ad for The China Clipper, noting its "Chinese Roast Pork Dinner." Note also that the restaurant was only open until 9pm, and not midnight like most other Chinese restaurants. An ad on April 17 mentioned they were now serving "Swift's Premium Tender Juicy Roast Beef." A May 8 ad stated they offered Barbecued Chinese Roast Pork with Duck Sauce for 50 cents. A May 22 ad offered Chicken Chop Suey or Chicken Chow Mein as a luncheon special for 50 cents.

As of June 16, 1949, The China Clipper noted in its advertisement that it still was Pittsfield's only Chinese restaurant.

Still going strong! The Berkshire Eagle, March 7, 1958, had an ad for The China Clipper, noting its special Dinner for Two for $4.95. This is the type of Chinese-American cuisine which is very common now.

Fire! The Berkshire Eagle, June 19, 1978, reported that a fire on April 6 significantly damaged The China Clipper, so the current owner, Yut Ho Jew, hoped to relocate to 1525 West Housatonic Street, previously occupied by the Berkshire Ambulance Service. The relocation occurred and the restaurant would last until the start of 1998, nearly sixty years in business, when the restaurant was sold and replaced by a non-Chinese restaurant.

Currently, there are an abundance of Asian restaurants in Malden, a great variety of different cuisines, often offering excellent food. I've enjoyed dining at many of these restaurants, some which I've previously reviewed here. However, that was obviously not always the case, and the first Chinese restaurant didn't come to Malden until 1912, over objections by some.

The Boston Post, September 18, 1912, and the Boston Globe, September 18, 1912, reported that at an Aldermen meeting the previous night in Malden, there was some discussion over the granting of a permit for the opening of a Chinese restaurant in Malden square. Aldermen William M. Blakeley moved to reconsider the granting of this permit as he claimed it would be unfair to the existing restaurants. However, as he was the only Alderman who desired reconsideration, no action against the permit was taken.

There was a follow-up in the Boston Post, September 19, 1912, noting that “For some time a ‘chop suey trust,’ made up of rich Chinese who control Chinese restaurants in Boston, Salem, Lynn and Haverhill, have been seeking official permission to do business in Malden.” This would be the first Chinese restaurant in Malden. The firm gave a tour of their other restaurants to some of the Aldermen, to see how they conducted business.

The only opposition to the permit was still just Alderman Blakeley, who stated that Malden did not need a Chinese restaurant. He also said,  “..if Malden people wanted Chinese food they could afford to go to Boston, and that if the Canton restaurant was outfitted in its usual lavish manner, the place might be a lure and snare to the girls of the city and endanger the morals of the city’s youth.” Some of the sam racist worries echoed by others during this time period. Fortunately, the other Aldermen didn't agree with his fears and granted the license. In addition, though the other restaurants in Malden had to close at 9pm, the Chinese restaurant would be allowed to stay open until midnight.

Alderman Blakeley apparently tried to organize some other opposition to the Chinese restaurant, The Boston Globe, October 2, 1912, reported that, “At a meeting last night of the Aldermen last evening protests were read by Men’s Club of the Center Methodist Church, the Linden Methodist Men’s Club and the Forestdale A.A. against the granting of a permit for the opening of a Chinese restaurant in Malden sq." Despite this opposition, no action was taken against the granting of the license. The other Alderman though the Chinese restaurant would be good for the city.

The restaurant, the New Canton, would open but three years later would run into trouble, renewed opposition from William Blakeley, who had become the mayor in 1915. The Boston Globe, June 7, 1915 noted that the New Canton had been granted a victuallers license by the Board of Alderman but Mayor Blakeley has not signed it. Without that license, the restaurant couldn't open on Sundays. I'll note that the restaurant was still able to remain open from Monday to Saturday, but they needed a special license to open on Sundays.

As reported in the Boston Globe, July 1, 1915, and Boston Journal, July 1, 1915, the restaurant sued the Mayor for his failure to sign the license, and a writ of mandamus was issued against him. The writ stated that the Mayor has “not lived up to his oath of office and has been negligent in his duties by failing to affix his signature to the license granted by the alderman. Also that the major has discriminated against the restaurant people, his stand being based on prejudices actuated by motives of hatred against the Chinese race.” The restaurant also noted that they had been able to open on Sundays the previous year, under the  term of Mayor Schumaker.

More details were provided in the Boston Herald, July 10, 1915 and Boston Globe, July 10, 1915. The New Canton restaurant, located at 416 Main Street, filed their application for a common victuallers’ license on April 27, 1915 and the Board of Alderman granted the license. It was also alleged that the Mayor's had refused to sign the license unless the restaurant had hired American citizens rather than Chinese that worked there.

Then, the Boston Globe, July 11, 1915, stated the Mayor had to appear before the Massachusetts Supreme Court and state why he shouldn’t be forced to issue the license. The City Solicitor had advised the Mayor to sign the license but he had refused to do. His refusal continued even when he went to court. The Boston Globe, July 13, 1915, said the Mayor had appeared in court, saying he wouldn’t sign the license and would fight it despite the cost.

In follow-up, the Boston Globe, July 16, 1915, reported that Judge De Courcy of the Supreme Court had decided to report the matter to the full bench on a question of law on the writ. During the hearing, defense counsel had alleged there had been no racial discrimination in the decision to refuse to sign the license. The Mayor felt that granting the license “would be detrimental to the public welfare.” Defense counsel also claimed that under Chapter 102 of the Revised Laws related to the granting of licenses to common victuallers, the Mayor had equal powers to the Board of Aldermen in “determining whether such action would injure the morals of a community.” The judge mentioned he was tending on granting the write, but as the defense asked for a full bench hearing, he granted their request.

The matter was finally settled about a week later. The Boston Globe, July 24, 1915, reported that the judge ruled that the New Canton restaurant could open on Sundays for now. The full bench hearing wouldn't take place until the Fall and the judge didn't believe the restaurant should lose money waiting until that hearing occurred. The Boston Post, July 24, 1915, then stated that, on the urging of the judge, the Mayor finally signed the license so the New Canton could open on Sundays. Case settled.

To Be Continued...

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