How did Chinatown's restaurants fare during these three decades? In the end, it appears they mostly weathered the storms, gaining greater acceptance and acclaim. As I mentioned before, most of the restaurants had started to offer American and Chinese cuisine, along with music and dancing, but with acceptance and acclaim, some started moving towards offering, or at least highlighting, only Chinese cuisine, returning to their roots.
The 1930s remained a tense time for potential Tong violence, which became a reality on several occasions. However, the 1940s and 1950s seemed to indicate that the violence of the Tong wars were largely over in Boston's Chinatown, with the Tongs becoming more community organizations, philanthropic and helpful. Peace between the tongs had come to Chinatown, at least for a time.
And onto the history...
I'm going to start with some history that actually spans a period from 1922 to 1938, a bridge of sorts between Parts 3 and 5 of this series. As I mentioned previously, once Bella Long, the Queen of Chinatown, died in May 1906, two candidates were soon after put forward to succeed her. The On Leong wanted Lena Chang of Fall River to be the new Queen, while the Hip Sing wanted Cora Chin, formerly of Lynn, to be the new Queen. There was a lack of information about what resulted from this competition and the two women were apparently not mentioned again in the newspapers. As I said before, I thought that Bella Long might live on as the one and only Queen of Chinatown, with no true successors. That would change during the 1920s and 1930s.
First, the Boston Globe, August 22, 1922, reported that Irene Harrington was arrested the previous day on suspicion of drug possession. When she was brought to the police station, she was initially frisked but no drugs were found. Once she was sent to the House of Detention, a matron did a "most thorough search" but again, no drugs were found. However, a doctor was then called, "who revealed the hiding place of the drug," and Irene was found to be in possession of morphine. Though this seemed like a simple drug possession case, the defendant played a larger role in Chinatown than reported in this article.
There was now a successor to Bella Long, and like Bella, Irene was also a white woman, married to a Chinese man, and was referred to as the Queen of Chinatown. It's unknown for how long Irene had this designation, or how she acquired it. We do know that she would retain this title for at least 9 years, and Irene's problems with the law would plague her for much of her life.
The Boston Herald, September 27, 1922, reported that Irene Wong, the "white queen of Chinatown," was charged with possessing drugs with intent to sell or selling. Her husband, Ben Wong, was also charged with selling narcotics. Irene defaulted! The Boston Globe, September 30, 1922, noted that Irene Wong failed to show up in court the day before and was defaulted, with a capias being issued for her arrest. It appears that at some point she returned to court and was released on $500 bail.
Arrested again! The Boston Globe, February 15, 1923, stated that Irene Wong was arrested the night before, charged with 4 counts of possession of narcotics, as well as possessing a needle. She had about $40 of narcotics on her as well. The article also noted she was still facing an earlier case in Federal Court. It's obvious that Irene was in the business of selling drugs, and likely was a user as well. As you may recall, Bella Long, the original Queen of Chinatown, was addicted to opium.
Arrested once again! The Boston Herald, November 11, 1930, reported on recent drug raids made in Boston, including in Chinatown. Irene Wong, the wife of Harry Wong, who lived at 51 Howard Street, was arrested and released on personal recognizance. Mar Toy Ann, of 159 Harrison Avenue, was also arrested and paid a $10,000 bail. Loretta Chin, of 76 Tyler Street, the white wife of Charlie Chin, couldn't pay her bail and had to remain in hail. Irene had allegedly purchased 6 ounces of drugs, while Mar and Loretta were charged with selling and dispensing drugs. Loretta would play an intriguing role in the near future.
In a later edition, the Boston Herald, November 11, 1930, provided some additional details. Charles Kelley, of 76 Tyler Street, the same address as Loretta Chin, age 35, was also arrested. The police noted that they had been to that same address several times during the prior few weeks and bought drugs. Irene Wong, also known as Margaret Mun, was arrested at her home at 51 Harvard Street, and Yim Ah Sing, 35 years old, of that same address, was also arrested. Toy Amm Mar, 35 years old, of 159 Harrison Avenue, was arrested at his home after police found 1000 grains of drugs hidden there. Interestingly, the Boston Herald, November 22, 1930, noted allegations by these defendants that the police had stolen over $1,000 of cash, jewelry, and merchandise from their homes. The police immediately started an investigation of these claims.
Queen of Chinatown, once again? The Boston Herald, March 26, 1931, stated that Irene Harrington Wong, wife of Harry Wong, was the "white queen of Chinatown." She was allegedly preparing to move out west, after having been charged with a violation of the narcotics law. Based on her plans, she pled guilty and received a one year suspended sentence and probation, though it was also noted that she had helped the government against some other drug dealers. It was thought that if she didn't leave the city, her life might be in danger. Would Irene actually leave Massachusetts?
The Boston Herald, August 16, 1932, reported that a U.S. grand jury released a number of indictments. One of those indictments was for Mae Foo and Loretta Chin for getting Betty Lee to execute a drug prescription.
A new Queen is crowned? The Boston Herald, September 15, 1932, reported that Loretta Chin, who was now the "Queen of Boston's Chinatown," was arrested by federal agents in New York City, based on a tip from a jilted white boy. She was being held on a charge from Boston of passing nearly 100 forged narcotic prescriptions. Two years before, she had been arrested for drug dealing. Then, the Boston Herald, September 27, 1932, noted that Loretta had been returned to Boston, where she was in jail awaiting trial. In follow-up, the Boston Herald, October 4, 1932, reported that Loretta pled guilty to executing a forged narcotic prescription, and received a two-year sentence, to be served at the Worcester house of corrections.
It's possible that Irene Wong left Chinatown around March 1931, and the title of Queen of Chinatown was thus open, and somehow Loretta attained that honor. She too was a white woman, married to a Chinese man, and was involved with drugs. Irene and Loretta knew each other, though it is unclear whether they were friends, or simply associates in the drug trade. Even if had Irene left Boston for a time, she returned within 3 years, maybe believing that any threat against her was over. It is also possible that she never left Chinatown but remained in seclusion, hoping to avoid any potential threats.
Whatever happened during those three years, Irene was in Boston's Chinatown in February 1934. The Boston Globe, February 19, 1934, stated that Irene Wong had been held on a $1000 bail after she pled not guilty to a new charge of possession of an ounce of narcotics. She had been arrested the Saturday before, and the article mentioned that she previously had been given an opportunity to reform, which appeared to refer to her 1931 arrest. This was the first time she had been apprehended since that time. Ultimately, the Boston Globe, May 16, 1934 reported that Irene pled guilty to the drug charge and was placed on 3 years probation.
Finally, the Boston Globe, December 27, 1937 noted that a Federal grand jury had indicted ten people on various narcotics offenses, and Irene Wong was once of those indicted. The disposition of her case was mentioned in the Boston Globe, February 15, 1938. Irene pled guilty and was sentenced to one year and a day by a Federal judge. Irene was then sent to a Federal women's reformatory. No further newspapers seemed to mention Irene Wong again, or Loretta Chin for that matter. Farewell to the Queens of Chinatown!
Now, onto more of a chronological history of other aspects of Chinatown...
The Boston Herald, January 6, 1930, reported that the previous night, Yee Wah Sin, a Chinese merchant, was elected president of the Chinese Merchants Association of Boston, the local of the On Leong Tong. There had been six candidates, and the election had about 1300 votes, with voters coming from all over New England. More information came from the Boston Herald, January 15, 1930. That article mentioned that there had been nearly 1500 ballots, not 1300 as in the previous Herald article. In addition. it was mentioned that Yee Wah had served overseas, during World War I, for about 19 month. He was also regarded as a diplomat in Chinatown.
Fire! The Boston Globe, March 24, 1930, briefly mentioned there was a fire at a Chinese restaurant, inside a one-story brick building, at 34 Oxford Street, near Beach Street. Heated by a flame from a gas jet, a wooden wall burst into flames. About $2000 in property damage was done. The restaurant owner, Yee Hang Foo, lived next door and came out when he heard an alarm. He severely cut his hand and forearm when he smashed the large front window of restaurant.
There was a brief mention of a stabbing at a Chinese restaurant, located at 864 Washington Street, in the Boston Globe, April 14, 1930. A man was cut on his lower body in a fight with three men at that restaurant. The name of the restaurant wasn't mentioned.
Tong violence plagued Boston's Chinatown and others. The Boston Globe, June 5, 1930, detailed that there had been Tong violence in Chicago, New York, Newark and Boston. In Boston, someone fired shots at the Hip Sing headquarters, but no one was injured. An arrest warrant was issued for Chin Wing, formerly of 89 Beach St, and once an influential member of the On Leong, though it was said he had lost his standing with the tong. He allegedly fired at Wong Hung and Yee Sing, and was charged with assault with intent to murder. The newspapers never mentioned whether the police found Chin Wing or not.
With worries about renewed tong violence, the police took action. The Boston Globe, June 6, 1930 stated that the warned the tongs to stop the violence or that the police would stop it by force. They posted their warning on the Oxford Place bulletin board. The first tong to respond was the Hip Sing, as reported in the Boston Globe, June 7, 1930. The Hip Sing agreed to keep the peace. However, the On Leong took their time in making their response. The Boston Globe, June 28, 1930, noted that the On Leong finally agreed to keep the peace, after they returned from an important Tong meeting in New York City.
Despite these reassurances, the police were still worried. The Boston Herald, July 10, 1930, noted the fears of the police because of recent tong violence in New York City. The police increased their presence in Chinatown.
In the midst of these worries about new Tong violence, the Boston Herald, July 13, 1930, in an article titled, Truth of Boston Tong Massacre Bared, provided a book review of a new book that detailed the 1907 Chinatown mass shooting. The new book, Tong War!: The First Complete History of the Tongs in America; Details of the Tong Wars and Their Causes; Lives of Famous Hatchetmen and Gunmen; and Inside Information as to the Workings of the Tongs, Their Aims and Achievements was written by Eng Ying Gong and Bruce Grant (1930). "Eddie" Gong was the head of the Hip Sing Tong while Grant was a New York police reporter.
In short, the 1907 incident involved numerous Hip Sing members who open fired on Oxford Place in Chinatown, killing four people and wounding six others. Ultimately, 9 Chinese were convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to the electric chair. In the end, only three were actually executed, a couple having their sentences commuted to life imprisonment, and others dying in prison. The article stated, "As is usual in tong cases, reliable evidence was difficult to obtain, and ever since that time many have held the belief that the real truth of the matter never came out at the trial."
The book first discusses that the Tongs refer to the Oxford massacre as the Boston Outdoor Banquet. If a hatchet man, a boo how doy, shot an enemy, it was said that he "ate one pie." At the Oxford massacre, "many pies were eaten" so it was considered a "banquet." The book also makes the claim that the brains behind the Oxford massacre was Sing Dock, known as the Scientific Killer and the Hangman's Noose, said to be the greatest gunman in tong history. Sing had allegedly murdered over fifty rivals, and worked for several different tongs as he loved killing. A further allegation in the book was that Warry Charles, who had been previously thought to be the mastermind behind the massacre, was actually innocent.
Sing Dock was previously responsible for the infamous New York Theatre Party, though Huey Now, the leader of the Hip Sing, was disgusted with that "party" and ordered Sing to leave town. Sing decided to travel to Boston, where he found the ongoing Tong feud between the On Leong and Hip Sing. Seeing an opportunity, Sing carefully planed the Oxford massacre, trying to ensure that the Hip Sing in Boston were unaware of his plans. During the planning stage, Sing and his men visited a laundry owned by Joe Toon, aka Warry Charles, and took a number of his business cards. When some of those gunmen were later arrested, the police assumed Warry Charles was involved in the massacre.
Despite almost being arrested, Sing was able to escape Boston, though his life would eventually end violently. Sing ended up on the West Coast, and helped the On Yick Tong against the Yee family. However, Sing's lieutenant, Yee Toy, was related to some of the Yee family that Sing killed. Sing eventually returned to New York, where he got drunk one night and slapped another tong member, a major faux pas. Sing made a formal apology, and didn't come armed, but an argument broke out and Yee Toy shot Sing in the stomach, killing him. Shortly thereafter, Yee Toy was killed by a man pretending to be his friend.
The book also alleges that most Chinese are unaware of the actual story behind the massacre. Eddie claims he was told the "truth" about two years ago from one of Sing Dock's oldest friends. A quick scan of other reviews and information about this book do cast some doubts on its veracity. However, a more in-depth analysis of these claims will have to wait for a future article.
More Tong violence, despite assurances of peace just a month ago. The Boston Globe, July 31, 1930 noted that there had been a renewed Tong war in New York, and a recent murder in Boston. Leong Toon, age 30, of 11 Oliver Place (a small alley off Beach Street), was a member of the On Leong and was found dead, shot seven times. No one apparently heard any gunfire, and there rumors that there were Maxim silencers in Chinatown.
A couple arrests made. The Boston Herald, August 1, 1930, reported that Harry Brockaway aka Lew Fook, a laundryman, of 538 Cambridge Street, and the Boston secretary of the Hip Sing, and Don Kew, of New York, and the national secretary of the Hip Sing, were arrested as suspects in the murder of Leong Toon. There was a heavy police presence in Chinatown, especially as there had been two other murders in New York City earlier that day. The two suspects were freed. The Boston Globe, August 8, 1930, stated that there was no probable cause to hold the two suspects. Based on additional evidence, the main government witness, Yee Ching, aka Harry Stone, sometimes called the "Cow policeman," was thought to be mistaken in his identification of the two defendants. It doesn't appear the police ever found the killer.
Now, onto some positivity. The Boston Globe, September 15, 1930, presented the anecdote of a man who recently dined at a Chinese restaurant in Boston. The man saw a table of four to five men who had brought their own alcohol, possibly wine, to the restaurant. They offered some to their Chinese waiter who declined, stating he was a Christian. This was said as further proof of “the general belief that the Chinese are temperate and aside from a little private gambling now and then are law abiding and give little trouble to the authorities.” It's good to see such sentiments rather than the racist fears which sometimes arose.
Gambling raids never seem to end. The Boston Globe, October 15, 1930, reported that police raided 195 Harrison Avenue and arrested 26 Chinese men on charges of gambling, being present where gaming implements were found, and illegal possession of drugs. Only one person had a small amount of drugs on him,, while 15 others were booked for gambling, the rest for being present where gaming implements were found. It's unclear what game they were playing, though it might have been fan tan.
Tong war fears once again. In this turbulent year, the Boston Herald, November 26, 1930, mentioned more fears of a local Tong war. The On Leong claimed that members of the Hip Sing had been telling the police that the On Leong owned and operated about 40 vice and drug dens in Chinatown. Fortunately, no actual violence occurred during this period.
There was a near riot at a Chinese restaurant. The Boston Globe, January 17, 1931, reported that the police responded to a call, at about 1am, at the Palais D’Or, a Chinese-American restaurant at 281 Huntington Avenue. When the officers arrived, they found about 20 people, guests and employees, battling. The fight might have originated over a coat check dispute, which escalated to a large free-for-all.
In early 1931, a large-scale vice ring investigation was conducted, reaching across New England, aimed at stopping organized prostitution, which might have also involved underaged girls. A few Chinese restaurants were targeted in this investigation, including Palais D’Or, Pekin, and Symphony. In March 1931, a bill was filed to prevent them from continuing the “alleged common nuisance’ and Pekin closed its doors less than two weeks later.
The Boston Herald, March 1, 1931, reported that an unknown group had been sending anonymous information to the police about Chinese who were illegally in the U.S. Within the last few weeks, a dozen Chinese were arrested and could be deported. During the last week, more Chinese had been arrested. The motive for the anonymous information was unknown, and the letters had very detailed information.
Lobsters! The Boston Herald, April 4, 1931, mentioned that "That Chinese are also big buyers and connoisseurs of lobsters. For some reason best known to themselves, the Chinese restaurant proprietors, who customarily do their own shopping, almost always pick out female lobsters and refuse to buy males."
Plenty of fascinating information was provided in the Boston Globe, May 5, 1931 in their article about the recent release of the New England Chinese Business Directory. The information in the directory was compiled by Wong C. Poy, a leading Chinatown merchant, and it listed about 8,000 Chinese people in New England, indicating a rough doubling of the population within the last twenty years.
Of that population, about 4,500 lived in Greater Boston, comprised of 3,000 men, 1,000 children, and only 150 women. What a huge disparity between men and women, which was a legacy of the Chinese Exclusion Act and similar such laws. The article also noted, “There are about 200 Chinese families in Boston’s Chinatown, Harrison av, Beach, Tyler, Oxford and Hudson sts, in what used to be Irish residential territory, called the Old South Cove.”
There was pride in the fact that a number of Chinese children were attending prestigious universities, including 80 students at Harvard University and 35 at MIT. Other Chinese students attended Boston College, Tufts, Radcliffe, Wellesley, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Yale College, and some art and music schools. The article also mentioned that there were about 1500 hand laundries and 4 wet wash laundries in Greater Boston. Finally, it was noted that there were about 70 Chinese restaurants in Massachusetts, with 40 of them located in Boston.
Stupidity reigns! The Boston Globe, August 20, 1931, detailed an incident at the Red Rooster Chinese restaurant where one of their diners, Martin Carmello, who was leaving the place at about 12:15am, decided to try out his new fountain pen-style tear gas gun. As the tear gas spread through the restaurant, about 60 other diners, waiters, and employees had to flee. Martin was arrested, along with his brother and a friend, and Martin was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. He was later found guilty of plain assault and received a one month suspended sentence.
In September 1931, Japan invaded the Chinese region of Manchuria and Boston's Chinatown instituted a boycott to protest the actions of the Japanese. The Chinese Merchants’ Association, headquartered at 14 Oxford Street, declared a boycott of all Japanese products, and this boycott was instituted in a number of other cities across the country. In Boston's Chinatown, any Chinese restaurant found serving “Japanese eatables” would be fined $50 for its first offense, and $200 for a second offense. Upon a third offense, the offender was to be ostracized by the association and its merchant members.
Tong friction and fears. The Boston Globe, November 10, 1931, noted that several months ago, a number of Hip Sing laundries cut their prices, which led to some friction. The article also noted that several years ago, Kneeland Street was established as a dead line between the tongs. Recently, the Hip Sing tried to hire premises in the On Leong territory, causing tension and fears of renewed violence.
A new peace treaty? The Boston Herald, February 6, 1932, reported that the Hip Sing and On Leong Tongs made a temporary truce on January 14. It was set to expire, but the previous night, the Tongs met and agreed to make it permanent truce. It was noted that the New York tongs had also encouraged them to make peace. It didn't take long though for the police to worry about a new Tong war. The Boston Globe, February 16, 1932, noted their worries, with rumors of six On Leong gunmen coming to Chinatown. Once again, that violence didn't occur.
A year later, there was a terrible murder. The Boston Globe, January 2, 1933, reported that Leong Mow, age 55, was brutally slain in his laundry at 115 Berkeley Street in the Back Bay. He sustained a terrible attack by a meat cleaver, dying about five hours after being taken to a hospital. Mow, also known as Leong Moy and Leong Yick Tip, had been a laundryman for twenty years but he was also allegedly a dealer in narcotics, being on probation at the time of his murder. Five suspects were arrested but later released. Two days later, the Boston Globe stated that a seventh suspect had been arrested and then freed. This appears to be another murder that went unsolved, though it was believed to be drug-related rather than a Tong issue.
Six months later, there was another murder, thought to be Tong related. The Boston Globe, July 22, 1933, reported that Dong Hong Foo, aka Freddie Dong, age 34, was murdered, shot twice, in the chest and face, while in a stairway at 79 Harrison Avenue. That location was the headquarters of the Independent Laundrymen’s tong, as well as an opium den. Foo's brother, Henry Dong, operated laundries in Cambridge, Winchester and Grove Hall (Roxbury), and his tong was involved in some battling with the two major tongs of Chinatown, the On Leong and Hip Sing. The Laundrymen were undercutting prices, as well as violating a rule that you couldn't open a laundry within 40 numbers of another one.
Henry had recently broken that rule by opening a new laundry on Blue Hill avenue in Roxbury. Henry knew of the dangers, and had acquired a gun permit as there was allegedly a price on his head, and that of his wife. However, it doesn't appear that there was a price on Foo's head. Did the killers shoot the wrong brother? Three men were eventually arrested for the murder, with probable cause found against two of them. However, the final disposition of the matter is absent from the newspapers. This matter put the local police on edge, worried that the violence would escalate from a tong war, but fortunately that didn't occur.
More gambling issues. The Boston Globe, August 22, 1933, reported on a number of slot machines that were seized at a Chinese restaurant located at 57 Beach Street. They were cleverly concealed in steel filing cases, hidden behind locked sliding doors. Only one man was arrested at the scene.
The Boston Herald, March 20, 1934, reported that Mai Fong Low, who owned a Chinese restaurant at 337 Massachusetts Avenue, found $945 missing from his safe. In addition, his best waiter, Wong Haw, was missing. Obviously, there was likely a connection.
The Boston Herald, January 21, 1935, reported on the police making gambling raids in Chinatown. They raided a store at 205 Harrison Avenue, arresting nine Chinese, charging four with gambling and the other five with being present where gambling was taking case. The article mentioned the police hand't made any such gambling raids in over three years but they had been receiving numerous complaints so felt compelled to act.
As a follow-up, the Boston Herald, December 16, 1935, stated Benny Lee was a native of San Francisco and had lived in Boston for about 25 years. He had once been the secretary of the On Leong Tong. He married Esther, formerly of Lynn, about five years ago, and relocated from Beach Street. They had been living at 378 Newbury Street for the last six months. Benny had also been the mayor of Chinatown but was defeated for re-election, which was a hard blow for Benny to accept. He started drinking heavily after that defeat.
Arrested for trying to stop two robbers? The Boston Herald, January 2, 1936, reported that a Chinese restaurant, at 106 Northhampton Street, was robbed. Wing Gong Fong, age 24, the manager of the restaurant, and Wah Chin Kew, age 41, were beaten by two robbers, who stole from the cash register. However, the Chinese men, armed with guns, pursued the robbers into the street, firing about five shots, though apparently not hitting them. Police came to the scene and arrested the two Chinese for possessing firearms without a license.
The Boston Herald, February 10, 1936, noted that yesterday, a Chinese laundry in Revere had been bombed and two Boston men (one from Chinatown and one from Roxbury) were picked up for questioning. The bombing occurred at the rear of 99a Centennial Avenue, a two-family dwelling where the first floor was a laundry. There was lots of damage to the building but fortunately there were no injuries. This was suspects as tong violence so the police ramped up their presence in Chinatown.
There were a couple quick mentions of Chinese restaurants on Tyler Street. The Boston Globe, June 14, 1937, stated there was a Chinese restaurant at 20 1//2 Tyler Street and the Boston Globe, October 19, 1937, briefly mentioned King Wah Low, a Chinese restaurant at 16 Tyler Street.
With the advent of the 1940s and early 1950s, it became a very quiet time in Boston's Chinatown for the Tongs. The newspapers failed to mention any renewed fears of a Tong war and there was really no Tong violence. Instead, the On Leong Tong was noted for conducting community work, offering assistance to the Chinese people. Very little was said about the Hip Sing, though at least they weren't causing any trouble.
Do you remember Li’l Abner? That satirical comic strip was created by Al Capp, and he also wrote an article for the Boston Globe, August 12, 1942, which reviewed some local nightclubs and restaurants. Al stated, “There are lots of good Chinese Restaurants in Boston.” and then continued, “The best I’ve ever et, I et at the China Inn, in Brookline, on Harvard st., near Beacon. The Chinese steak there is wonderful, the sweet and pungent spare ribs are wonderful, the Chow Mein Canton Style there is wonderful. If you care as passionately about Chinese Food as I do, I suggest the China Inn. It’s a delightfully appointed place, too, not gaudy as these places are apt to be.”
The largest drug seizure in Chinatown since the start of Word War II. The Boston Herald, November 15, 1942, reported on a police raid at a Beach Street restaurant. Wong Sing, age 50, of Hudson Street, and Gee Chuck Yin, age 45, of Tyler Street, were arrested and held on a $10,000 bail. They were charged with receiving and concealing narcotics, having over 520 grains of narcotics in their possession when they were arrested.
With World War II going on, there would be sad news coming to Chinatown at times. The Boston Globe, March 10, 1944, noted that Leong Wah-Hing, one of the finest Chinese cooks in Boston, was grief-stricken at his home on Oxford Terrace as his eldest son, Private Leong Qua Nam Hing, lost his life in the Mediterranean area. He was thought to be the first Boston Chinese to be a "martyr" to two countries, the U.S. and China. He had enlisted right after Pearl Harbor with his younger brother, Leong K. Chin Hing, who just received a medical discharge. Unfortunately, Qua left a wife and son, age 7, in China.
More drugs raids, and just as significant. The Boston Herald, December 15, 1944, reported that a large New England narcotics ring was smashed, having smuggled $100,000 of opium and heroin from Mexico to this area within the last 4 months. The ring had their headquarters in Chinatown, and 17 people had already been arrested, with more arrests to come. John Log Shee, of 19 Tyler Street, the head of the Chinese Benevolent Association of New England, was arrested for bribery of a federal official, having paid him $100 on five different occasions. In addition, John was in possession of 150 grains of opium when he was arrested. Gun Chin, age 49, of 58 Beach Street, the head of the On Leong in New England, was arrested for possession of 218 grains of heroin and 8 ounces of opium. Lee Fat, age 59, of 5 Oxford Place was also arrested and charged with possession of 4 ounces of opium.
A war-time curfew! In February 26, 1945, there was an order from the War Mobilization Director that there would be a nationwide curfew at midnight for all clubs and restaurants selling liquor. The Boston Licensing Board also made it official though there was little opposition in the city, as "Boston has always been a 1 o'clock town." Restaurants could stop selling liquor and midnight and stay open, providing food. Other places that didn't sell liquor could also stay open. For example, Ruby Foo's Den, which never sold liquor, can still remain open till 4am.
And a violator of the curfew. The Fitchburg Sentinel, April 11, 1945, mentioned that Oi Gi Lee, a Chinese restaurant on Tyler Street, had its license suspended for 3 days for violating the curfew. Customers were found to still be drinking alcohol at 12:30am.
Proudly, the Boston Globe, April 22, 1945, ran an article titled, 200 of Boston's 2300 Chinese Are Heroes. The article stated that over 200 Chinese men and 1 woman had joined the armed forces, working in a number of different services and positions, in both combat theaters, Europe and the Pacific. It was mentioned that three brave men had died, including Private Leong Quong Nam of 662 Tremont Street, KIA in North Africa; Private Leong Wing of 66 Beach Street, who died of wounds in a French hospital; and Private Oon Ten Wong, of 17 Hudson Street, who was killed in France. Other Chinese servicemen were wounded and two were prisoners of war. The article also provided information about a number of the individual Chinese-American soldiers serving the country.
A quiet robbery. The Boston Globe, October 26, 1946, reported that two men held up the manager of the Green Pagoda, a Chinese restaurant at 1270 Boylston Street. One of the robbers alleged to have a gun in his coat, and they got away with $200. Most of the diners were unaware that a robbery had occurred.
The top floor of the restaurant was set up for banquets while the second floor was arranged for private dining rooms. The first floor dining area was notable for a cedar carved piece, a branch of a 900 year-old Magnolia tree 900 years old. “Waiters for China House are all well educated Chinese Americans who are brief every morning so that they can introduce a new Chinese dish to customers each day.” Although their advertisements claimed to feature "unusual Chinese food," the ads never provided any specifics. The China House would serve a variety of Cantonese and Mandarin delicacies, as well as American cuisine. This restaurant would last for about 25 years.
What's the population of Chinatown? The Boston Traveler, February 16, 1950, in a brief article about Chinese New Year, mentioned there were 3000 Chinese in Chinatown. The fire was caused by a flooded oil burner and gutted the 3rd and 4th floors of the building. The fire began in the 3rd floor apartment of Chin May and his family and quickly spread to the fourth floor, the office of the New Chinese Society, Inc. the property damage is estimated at $5,000, and a fireman was injured, though not seriously, while battling the blaze.
Another Chinatown fire. The Boston Traveller, March 3, 1950, had a brief article about a fire at 14 Hudson Street in Chinatown. There was another fire reported in the Boston Herald, April 11, 1950. The Mei Jean Chinese Restaurant, owned by Lin Tai How, and located at 103 Brighton Avenue, Allston, had a fire.
The Boston Traveler, January 22, 1951, and the Boston Globe, January 22 & 23, 1951, reported that Leong Wing Lee, also known as Leong Gat, owner of the Wing Lee American Restaurant at 690 Tremont Street, was found unconscious, lying in a pool of blood, on the floor of his restaurant. Leong lived next door, at a rooming house, at 694 Tremont Street. It was believed that someone struck him in the head with a blunt object. The cash register was open, and there were spots of blood in the kitchen and dining room. He died a day later, turning this into a murder investigation.
As a follow-up, the Boston Globe, February 14, 1951, noted that the police received their first lead when an witness came forward with a description of a man who threatened to rob the café on the day of the murder. Unfortunately, this crime might have gone unsolved as the newspapers failed to mention anything else about the crime after this point.
More positivity. The Boston Globe, March 13, 1951, ran an editorial that stated, “You can get better Chinese food in Boston than you can in China. And it is cheaper. Also cleaner. Reason: Chinese Communists are bringing about a decline in the art of cooking in that country. They are not supporting the type of restaurant where the best can be obtained. The restaurants are closing.” It continued that, “No city has more good Chinese restaurants than Boston.”
The Boston Herald, May 19, 1951, detailed a tour of Boston by a number of business people, and one of them, an economist, noted that Chinatown did an annual business of $10,000,000.
A grand celebration held in Chinatown. The Boston Herald, October 2, 1951, stated Chinatown "opened the biggest and most colorful celebration in its history last night, ..." There were traditional dragon dances and other Chinese ceremonies, all preceding the midnight dedication of the new headquarters and community center for the Chinese Merchants Association at Hudson and Kneeland Streets. The million dollar building was located at 20 Hudson Street. There was a five-day celebration, eclipsing even previous New Year's celebrations. Great times in Chinatown!
An even more serious fire in Chinatown. A brief article in the Boston Daily Record, December 3, 1951, stated that fire swept through the top floor apartments at 9 1/2 Oxford Place, displacing twelve persons. The damage was estimated at $2,000. The Boston Herald, December 3, 1951, added a couple more details. The fire began in the attic apartment of Jessie Moy and an overturned oil burner started the fire.
The Boston Daily Record, February 18, 1952, reported that there was a fire in a grocery store, owned by Yee Wah Sun, at 4 Hudson Street. The firemen kept it contained to that building, which sustained about $5000 in damage.
The Boston Daily Record, February 25, 1952, noted that “Manager Jimmy Chin of the China House, has the only banquet room in a Chinese restaurant in down-town Boston”
The Boston American, August 31, 1952, stated that the police raided an opium party and arrested Yee Ning, age 60, cook, of 135 Hudson Street. He was charged with the unlawful possession of narcotics, having been found with 10 grains of opium, a burner and a pipe.
Another gambling raid. The Boston Daily Record, November 17, 1952, reported that 18 Chinese men were arrested for gambling on the "Lord's Day." The police raided a basement on Tyler Street, and six Chinese successfully fled the scene.
According to China to Chinatown: Chinese Food in the West, by J.A.G. Roberts, "By 1952 in Chinatown itself, there were 26 restaurants and in Greater Boston alongside the 48 Chinese laundries there were 34 Chinese restaurants.” This is about 10 restaurants fewer than there were in 1931, which isn't surprising after the major events of the past couple decades.
A drug seller goes to prison. The Boston American, January 13, 1953, reported that Benny Soto, also known as Moon Get, pled guilty to heroin possession. It was alleged that he'd been selling drugs in Chinatown for over fifteen years, and had a long criminal record. He was given a ten-year sentence in a federal penitentiary.
In early 1953, the newspapers started to become full of articles discussing plans to construct the Boston Central Artery, a large highway that would cross through Boston. The initial plans though would have required the destruction of most of Chinatown and the Leather district, including the new $1 Million Chinese Merchants Association Building on Hudson Street. Obviously, the residents of Chinatown vehemently opposed these plans, making their opposition clear to the local government. At the very least, it forced the government to consider other possible locations for the Artery, including following the line of the Fort Point channel.
The arguments over these Artery plans continued all summer and into the fall. In October 1953, a new plan was offered which would have saved the Leather district but the Boston American, October 18, 1953, stated it would “destroy the heart of Chinatown and the garment industry.” These were worrisome times in Chinatown, fears of destruction of their entire community, fear of displacement and separation. However, they continued battling any plans to destroy Chinatown and they started garnering support from other elements of the community.
The Boston Daily Record, October 20, 1953, reported that the City Council had voted unanimously to ask law department officials to seek an injunction to prevent the State from taking any land or buildings in the garment, leather and Chinatown districts for the Artery project. About a week later, there was a new Artery plan that would spare Chinatown, reducing any land taking to almost nil. The Artery would be a six-lane elevated highway, with ramps to street level at key points throughout the downtown. However, this wasn't the final word and the threat to Chinatown remained.
This was raised in the Boston American, November 9, 1953, which noted one of the Artery plans till under consideration would affect the lives of over 300 families and property value of over $25 Million. The newspaper stated, “Chinatown..is an integral part of Boston, an area cleared from the teeming activity of the South End at the expense of the Chinese themselves.” There was growing support for Chinatown, and ultimately, in spring of 1954, the final plans would be chosen, and Chinatown would be largely untouched by the Artery construction. It had been a very tense year and fortunately Chinatown was able to survive the threat.
A new restaurant. The Boston Traveler, May 20, 1953, had a brief ad for Joy Yong, an American-Chinese Restaurant at 21 Harrison Avenue. It was noted that it served liquor.
An interesting article in the Boston Traveler, September 29, 1953, discussed "Oriental Hudson Street." It mentioned that Hudson Street, between Beach and Kneeland, was the heart of Chinatown. In addition, it mentioned, "Hudson Street is built entirely on land reclaimed from the sea by the South Cove Corporation in 1834." The article also mentioned that "On the corner of Kneeland is the new (1952) home of the Kung Wah Gong Shaw--The Chinese Merchant's Assocaition, an organization comprising over 70 families." The Association was established about 50 years ago, and was chartered in Massachusetts and China.
Another new restaurant. The Boston Globe, October 23, 1953, briefly mentioned the Ling Nan Chinese restaurant, located at 183 Massachusetts Avenue.
The Boston American, March 22, 1954, stated, "Boston's Chinatown, a distinctive area, where the finest Oriental food is the rule rather than the exception. You can't go wrong visiting any of the following places; The Cathay House, Anita and Gordon Chue, managers; Ruby Foo's Den, Doris and Earl Foo, managers; The House of Wong with George Wong; The China House, Jimmy Chin, manager; and Bob Lee's Lantern House."
The first Christmas festival in Chinatown. The Boston Herald, December 21, 1954, mentioned that Mayor John Hynes had donated an 18-foot Christmas tree to Chinatown, which would be lit at a ceremony that night. This would be the first time the entire Chinatown had observed a Christmas ceremony. The tree was placed in the yard of the Chinese Branch YMCA at 56 Tyler Street.
Can't play your records! The Boston Herald, July 29, 1955, detailed that George Wong, the owner of the House of Wong at 14 Hudson Street, didn't sell liquor and didn't have live entertainment.ng claimed that they just had “very good food.” During dinner, Wong played music on a record player that he bought several years ago. Sadly, Wong stopped playing records when he was sued by Rodgers and Hammerstein for copyright infringement for playing “Some Enchanted Evening,” a song they co-authored. They demanded that Wong cease playing the song and pay damages of at least $250. The origins of this issue allegedly arose 2 years ago when one of Wong's dinner guests informed him that he could not play a specific record without permission. I couldn't find any subsequent newspaper articles which discussed this litigation so maybe it was settled out of court.
There was a full-page advertisement for a new Chinese restaurant in the Boston American, January 11, 1956. The restaurant was The Rickshaw, located at 42 Stuart Street, and it was set to open on January 12. It was to be open from 4:30pm-3am, and had two intimate cocktail lounges, dinner music, and parking by a doorman. A few other newspaper articles at this time added some more details about The Rickshaw. The restaurant had been decorated by Florence Pike, the owner of Ruby Foo's Den in New York City, and the Chef was also from Ruby's. There were 68 items on their menu, and one of the owners was Nat Sharaf, a well known restaurant owner.
There was a brief mention in the Boston American, February 5, 1956, of the Polynesian Room in the Hotel Somerset.
A Chinese/Jewish restaurant? The Boston Traveler, March 16, 1956, mentioned a fascinating restaurant, the Chit Chat Snak Bar, which was located opposite Tufts Medical and Dental College. It was under a combined Jewish and Chinese management team, and it featured the cuisine of both. The article stated, “Chop suey and hot pastrami are staples; blintzes and chow mein are featured; and the patrons are as polyglot as the menu.” Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find much else about this restaurant, except that in October 1956, it was up for auction. I'm still seeking information about this place though and hope to find more in the future.
There was an informative article in the Boston Traveler, April 18, 1956, which gave numerous details about Chinatown. The article stated that Boston's Chinatown, the third largest in the country, next to San Francisco and New York, “..is three blocks wide and eight long—from Harrison Ave. to Albany St., Essex to Broadway in the South End.” There were about 15,000 Chinese in New England and “Every person of Chinese extraction in New England maintains an address in Chinatown. Why? It’s the custom. They start here, even though they live elsewhere.”
It also mentioned that there are about 200-300 Chinese children in Chinatown and that, “It is free of juvenile delinquency, even though it has no city playground.” About 80% of their children go to college. The article then concluded, “Boston’s Chinatown is no Oriental mystery. Rather, it’s an American miracle.”
About three years after facing the threat of elimination by the Central Artery project, Chinatown faced a new threat, which also threatened to destroy the community. The Boston Daily Record, September 11, 1956, mentioned that there were some plans for the reconstruction of the South Station area, plans which could destroy Chinatown. This article also mentioned that there were about 20 restaurants in Chinatown. More details were given in the Boston American, September 25, 1956, noting a proposal for an $18 Million facelift for the South Cove area, which covered about 63 acres. South Cover was the section that bordered Boston Harbor in the days prior to the filling in of the area now known as the Back Bay. The basic idea was to destroy numerous old buildings, about 90% which were at least 100 years old, and replace them with new ones.
The Boston Daily Record, November 21, 1956, noted that an estimated 90% of the buildings in Chinatown would be destroyed, and the residents of Chinatown obviously vehemently opposed the redevelopment plans. Again, it was a very tense time, with Chinatown trying to garner as much support as possible to oppose these plans. Fortunately, it appears that financial consideration quashed these redevelopment plans. The Boston Globe, April 11, 1957, noted that a recent Federal Housing Administration order has halted the South Cove redevelopment plans, as well as similar plans in other parts of the city. And without federal funds, the plans couldn't go forward. Chinatown was saved once again.
Amusingly, the Boston Traveler, March 15, 1957, penned an article, “Each Hub District Has Its Own Flavor.” As for Chinatown, it noted, “Colorful Chinatown is located, as all Chinatowns are, right in the heart of the business district. Its chief business seems to be the running of restaurants. This is as it should be for the Chinese is a genius in the art of preparing and serving food.”
Rampant gambling throughout Massachusetts. The Boston Traveler, March 27, 1957, reported on the voluminous findings of Massachusetts Crime Commission, which alleged that organized crime existed in that state and that illegal gambling was the most widespread form. Gambling grosses $2 Billion annually and its gross profits ranged from 5%-50%. Boston was the primary hub for gambling, but secondary hubs included Springfield, Worcester, Framingham, Lowell, Revere, New Bedford, Fall River, and Milford. The report also noted that the courts contributed to the problem as their penalties were weak. They most commonly awarded fines, but those were a minor expense to the gamblers, and jail sentences were almost non-existent.
The report devoted about 47 pages to gambling in Chinatown, mentioning that it has an “afterhours” illegal gambling operation. Specializing in fan tan, a concession ran this place, which was awarded to the highest bidder every six months. Besides fan tan, dominoes and lotteries were also very popular gambling games in Chinatown.
The Boston American, March 28, 1957, expounded more on gambling in Chinatown as outlined in the 600 page Crime Commission report. Gambling in Chinatown was said to be more organized than any other area in Massachusetts. Fan tan and domino tables run 24 hours a day, and there are 11-13 daily lotteries going on each day. Every Saturday afternoon, the Chinese Merchants Association stops at each gambling spot to collect their "concession fee." The report claimed that this Association "principal function appears to be to control gambling." The Association owns about 15 buildings in Chinatown, many which are known gambling spots.
With fan-tan, the house takes 14 cents of every dollar that is won, though there is no similar cut in domino games. The lotteries are conducted every half-hour, morning and night. You pick 10 Chinese characters, out of an 80 character set, and get bet up to $3, to win a pot up to $3,000. You just need to have 8 numbers correct. The biggest question in all of this has been, where were the police? Why haven't they done anything to stem the gambling in Chinatown, and elsewhere?
A year later, the Boston Daily Record, March 31, 1958, reported on a police gambling raid at the Quen Heng Club, located in the basement of 10 Tyler Street. This was noted as being the first gambling raid in Chinatown in several years. So, despite last year's major crime report, it took the police about a year before reacting to that report. Twenty five Chinese were arrested, and $526 and some Chinese dominoes were seized. Eight men were charged with gambling on the Lord’s Day, while the rest were charged with being present where gambling was occurring,
What happened to these men? The Boston Traveler, March 31, 1958, noted that “Doc” L. Wong, 34 years old and of 407 Tremont Street, was fined $100 for allowing his premises to be used for gambling. He was also given a one year suspended sentence and two years of probation for carrying a handgun. The other 24 cases were all continued without a finding, provided the men didn’t get arrested again for gambling in the near future. Despite the conclusions of the crime report that the courts were part of the problem, due to their lenient sentences, this court was very lenient in this case.
It seems maybe the police were more concerned about drugs rather than gambling. The Boston Daily Record, April 23, 1958, noted that 8 men had been arrested and $500 of heroin, syringes and needles had been seized at an Oxford Street apartment. The first floor apartment was located at 30 Oxford Street and was owned by Chin Bark Yoot, age 61. Then, the Boston Traveler, April 25, 1958, noted that Wong Kee Fong, age 60, of Hudson Street, was fined $300 for unlawful possession of opium.
Another big drug arrest. The Boston Herald, December 30, 1958, reported the arrest of 3 men, and the seizure of $30,000 in heroin and other drugs. A 26 year old Chinese man had been arrested in a café and then the police located drugs in his Tyler Street apartment. Other newspapers articles at this noted that the man arrested in the cafe was Kenneth Wong, an Army private from Fort Devens. A co-defendant was George Grieves, 27 years, of South Boston. They were the main two defendants, and in February 1959, Wong pled guilty and was sentenced to 3-5 years in state prison. Grieves chose to go to trial though the outcome wasn't provided.
Tragedy. The Boston Daily Record, January 21, 1959, reported on the deaths of Chin Kluen, age 67, and his nephew, Arthur Chun, age 33. They were found dead in their shared apartment at 4 Oxford Place and it was thought they might have died from carbon monoxide poisoning cause by a a space heater.
The Boston American, November 16, 1959, briefly mentioned a new Chinese restaurant, Ho Ho, located on Hudson Street. The manager was Sam Y. Seeto and the host was David Wong.
The End, for now.
Check out Part 1, covering the 19th century.
Check out Part 2, covering 1901-1920.
Check out Part 3, covering the 1920s.
Check out Part 4, the tale of Ruby Foo.
Check out Part 6, the tale of Anita Chue
Check out Part 7, the tale of Mary Yick
And also see my Compilation Post, with links to my additional articles about Chinese restaurants, outside Boston and in Connecticut, as well as a number of related matters.
(As of March 19, 2020, the above article was expanded & revised, more than tripling its original length.)
AFTERWORD: For now, that wraps up my expansion/revision of my five-part historical series on Boston's Chinatown and its restaurants. It began with a question, what was the oldest restaurant in Chinatown. I wasn't satisfied with the answer I found from a quick inquiry, especially considering various sources contradicted each other. I decided to take a deep dive into various newspaper archives to see if I could find any answers. It was a fascinating descent into a rabbit hole, entailing many, many hours of research, where I learned so much. It also persuaded me that the other sources were incorrect, that Hong Far Low, commonly accepted as the oldest Chinatown restaurant, wasn't actually the oldest.
What started as a single article eventually became a five-part series consisting of over 22,000 words. In my latest expansion of this series, it has grown to over 55,000 words, more than doubling in length, adding much more information. And I'm not finished. In the future, I'll likely continue my research and eventually add even more information to this series for your edification and enjoyment.
I'd also love to hear your comments about this series.