Brian W. Choy: Historic Chinatown

Terminal 3

May 2014 - July 2014

Brian W. Choy: Historic Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest outside of China and the oldest in the United States. The first Chinese immigrants arrived in 1848. On October 29,1850, citizens celebrated the admission of California into the Union at Portsmouth Square—the birthplace of the city of San Francisco. Portsmouth Square, the city’s first public square and its civic center during the early nineteenth century, is the heart of the Chinese community today. San Francisco continued to grow and expand while the Chinese and other immigrants from Asia stayed in the area.

In the 1980s, the father-and-son team of Philip P. Choy and Brian W. Choy, collaborated as author and photographer respectively to pursue a family quest to nominate Chinatown as an historic district. For months, Brian Choy rose early each morning to photograph buildings in Chinatown, unobstructed by cars, pedestrians, and tourists.

Choy’s photographs reveal a blending of Western and Chinese architectural elements to create a Sino-American architectural vernacular. Multi-tiered eaves suggest multi-storied pagodas, wrought-iron fire escapes are transformed into balconies decorated with Chinese design motifs, and extended roofs create the illusion of massive roofs prominent in Chinese architecture.

Brian Choy’s images of buildings and institutions are a reminder of Chinatown’s enduring historical, architectural, and cultural legacy within the city of San Francisco—a heritage imbued with a rich collaborative spirit.

Choy, Philip P. San Francisco Chinatown: A Guide to Its History and Architecture. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2012.
The Architecture of San Francisco Chinatown, San Francisco: Chinese Historical Society of America, 2008.

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