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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Provenance
  • Restrictions on Access
  • Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
  • Preferred Citation
  • Biographical Note
  • Scope and Content Note
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Louis Family Papers
    Date (inclusive): 1872-2009
    Date (bulk): (bulk 1880-1945)
    Collection number: MS 167
    Creator: Louis, Ah, 1840-1936 Louis, Gon Ying, 1868-1909 Louis, Lena Ah Tye, 1891-19875 Louis, Wong Young, 1893-1988 Louis, Mae, 1895-1988 Louis, Walter Sing, 1897-1993 Louis, Helen Wong, 1903-1994 Louis, Fred Wong, 1907-1994 Louis, Howard, 1908-2008
    Extent: 33 boxes (20 linear feet)
    Repository: Special Collections and Archives, Robert E. Kennedy Library, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California 93407
    Abstract: The Louis Family Papers contains nineteenth- and early twentieth-century business records and personal papers of the Louis family, a prominent and pioneering mercantile family in San Luis Obispo, California. Born in China, Wong On (Ah Louis) migrated to the United States in 1861 and opened a Chinese mercantile store in San Luis Obispo in 1874. Included are the records of Louis' children, of which Howard Louis' records comprise the bulk. The collection is comprised of approximately 20 linear feet of family correspondence, financial and legal records, and business correspondence and financial records. The collection was donated in 2010.


    Donated in 2010.

    Restrictions on Access

    Collection is open to qualified researchers by appointment only. For more information on access policies and to obtain a copy of the Researcher Registration form, please visit the Special Collections Access page.

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    In order to reproduce, publish, broadcast, exhibit, and/or quote from this material, researchers must submit a written request and obtain formal permission from Special Collections, Cal Poly, as the owner of the physical collection.
    Photocopying of material is permitted at staff discretion and provided on a fee basis. Photocopies are not to be used for any purpose other than for private study, scholarship, or research. Special Collections staff reserves the right to limit photocopying and deny access or reproduction in cases when, in the opinion of staff, the original materials would be harmed.

    Preferred Citation

    Louis Family Papers, Special Collections and Archives, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

    Biographical Note

    Ah Louis was a pioneering merchant in nineteenth-century San Luis Obispo, California. Born Wong On in 1840 in the Ock Gong Loong On village, Tolshan District, Guangdong Province, China, Louis immigrated to California in 1861. After traveling through mining towns in Oregon and California, Louis settled in San Luis Obispo in 1870.
    Louis' business ventures were many and varied. Records show he was a labor contractor for railroad and road building, mines, farms, and other local work. In the 1870s he opened what is believed to be the first brickyard in the county, and the bricks from his operation were used in many downtown edifices that still remain, including the old San Luis Obispo Courthouse and his own store. Louis also engaged in vegetable farming and later seed farming in farmland throughout San Luis Obispo County. He owned mercury and chrome mines and bred racehorses.
    Louis opened a general mercantile store in 1874, to provide for the needs of his laborers and direct his labor contracts. In 1884 he built a brick store at 800 Palm Street (the corner of Palm and Chorro). From the building Louis operated and oversaw his many business enterprises, as well as serving as a banker, advisor, herbalist, and merchant. The store was stocked with Chinese foods and herbs, as well as Anglo holiday wares, firecrackers, Japanese goods, and an assortment of wares imported from San Francisco's Chinatown or directly from China.
    In 1889 Louis married Eng Gon Ying (1868-1909) in San Francisco. Their eight children, born in the family residence located above the Louis Store, were:
    Lena Ah Tye (1891-1975)
    Young Jung Yeong (1893-1988)
    Mae Ah May (1895-1988)
    Walter Ah Sing (1897-1993)
    George Ah Him (1899-1993)
    Helen Ah Heong (1903-1994)
    Fred Ah Yuey (1907-1994)
    Howard "Toby" Ah Toa Wong (1908-2008)
    The experiences of the Louis siblings are extensive and varied. They attended San Luis Obispo public schools and Cal Poly and worked for local businesses. They were actresses, restaurateurs, photographers, servicemen, and participated in the development of the Chinese American community in San Luis Obispo.
    Court records suggest that Ah Louis had a son, Willie Louis, born from a previous marriage in China. It is unclear if Willie Louis was a biological son of Ah Louis or if he was claimed as a "paper son" in order to immigrate to the United States. In 1909 Willie Louis was convicted of murdering Eng Gon Ying Louis.
    In December 1932, at the age of 93, Ah Louis, accompanied by his sons, Fred and Howard, returned to China, intending to live out the rest of his life in his homeland. However, soon after arriving in China, Louis wished to return to San Luis Obispo, disappointed in the political upheaval and lack of social change in Canton. Ah Louis anticipated living out the remainder of his days in China; therefore he did not have the requisite paperwork needed to return to the United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act required all Chinese to obtain certification for re-entry; as a result Ah Louis, accompanied by Fred and Howard, was detained at Angel Island, San Francisco. After obtaining support of several prominent San Luis Obispo residents, including Mayor Sinsheimer and Superior Court Judge Norton, Louis was permitted to reenter the United States in November 1932.
    Ah Louis died in San Luis Obispo on December 18, 1936.
    Howard "Toby" Louis (1908-2008) was the youngest of the Louis children. He attended Court School and San Luis Obispo High School and worked several jobs in San Luis Obispo, including projectionist at the Elmo Theatre. He attended University of California Berkeley from 1930 until he left to accompany his father on his trip to China.
    After their return from China, Howard took over management of the Louis Store and shifted the merchandise sold from general sundries to imported gifts and art objects. In 1941 Howard married Yvonne Sam and in 1942 was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving in the 89 th Infantry Division in Europe.
    After returning to San Luis Obispo, Howard resumed management of the store. In the early 1950s Howard prevented the demolition of the store when the city wanted the space for a parking lot. In 1965 the store was designated a state historical landmark.
    Howard remained active in the San Luis Obispo community throughout his life. He provided substantial support for the Chinatown mural on the Palm Street parking structure, the Iron Road Pioneers statue in Railroad Square, and a new entrance to San Luis Obispo High School.
    Howard Louis, the last surviving child of Ah Louis, passed away in San Luis Obispo on August 15, 2008 at the age of 100.
    Wong, H. K. Gum Sahn Yun (Gold Mountain Men). California: Fong Bros. Print., 1987.
    Twelfth Census of the United States (1900)
    Thirteenth Census of the United States (1910)
    Articles on the murder of Gon Ying Louis published in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, 1909
    Ochs, Patricia M. A History of Chinese Labor in San Luis Obispo County and A Comparison of Chinese Relations in This County with the Anti-Chinese Movement in California, 1869-1894 . 1966. Senior Project, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, 1966.

    Scope and Content Note

    The Louis Family Papers contain the personal and business records of the prominent Chinese-American mercantile family of San Luis Obispo, California.
    The Louis Family Papers are organized in nine series:
    Series 1. Ah Louis Personal Papers, 1891-1937
    Series 2. Louis Children Personal Papers, 1914-1994
    Series 3. Howard and Yvonne Louis Personal Papers, 1908-2009
    Series 4. China Trip, 1932-1934
    Series 5. Clippings Files, 1927-2009
    Series 6. Photographs, 1888-2008
    Series 7. Ah Louis Business Records, 1872-1932
    Series 8. Louis Store Records, 1937-1943
    Series 9. Artifacts
    The records span two generations of the Louis family—patriarch Ah Louis, wife Eng Gon Ying, and their eight children and their spouses—from the late nineteenth century through the turn of the twenty-first century. Although the collection is relatively small in physical extent, it warrants attention as one of the most extensive sets of records of a Chinese-American family in nineteenth- and twentieth-century San Luis Obispo County.
    Records created or collected by Ah Louis in his personal or business pursuits account for only a small portion of the collection, approximately 1 linear foot. However, his business records are of particular interest and value to researchers of early San Luis Obispo history. The records document Chinese laborers in the county and provide evidence of Louis' various business pursuits, including his store; agricultural and mining interests; and labor, property, and brickyard records.
    Records pertaining to Ah Louis identify him by several different names, including Wong On, Ah Luis, Ah Luey, and Ah Louis.
    Howard Louis is identified in personal correspondence as "Toby."
    Seven of Louis' nine children's papers are represented in the collection and include records created by their spouses. Not found in the collection are records pertaining to sons George Louis and Willie Louis (a son from a previous marriage). The bulk of these records were created, collected, or annotated by Howard Louis, the last surviving family member. As the final custodian of the family's papers, Howard Louis photocopied and annotated many documents, as well as apparently reorganizing the records. Howard Louis deposited photocopies of portions of the records with the History Center of San Luis Obispo County (formerly the San Luis Obispo County Historical Society).
    Of particular interest in the family's personal papers is Series 4, the records of a trip Howard, Fred, and Ah Louis made to China in 1933, which comprises approximately 5 linear feet. The China Trip Series includes correspondence to and from Howard and Fred to their friends and family in the U.S. and China. Subseries C: Documents Regarding Ah Louis' Return to the United States contains documents created when Ah Louis was held at Angel Island, San Francisco, awaiting permission to reenter the United States. These documents include letters of recommendation written by prominent San Luis Obispo families and a detailed interview with Louis, conducted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, in which he provides valuable biographical information. Scrapbooks and hundreds of photos of the trip—many annotated near the time of creation—are in Series 6: Photographs.
    The business records are divided into two series: Ah Louis's business records and the Louis Store business records from 1937 to 1943. Ah Louis' business records document the varied business interests that Ah Louis engaged in while living in San Luis Obispo. Series 8 contains records created while the store was primarily under the management of Howard. They provide only an incomplete record of his full tenure, which spanned roughly 1936 to 2008.
    Several series in the collection include photocopies of original documents. In some instances the originals are also included; however, in numerous cases the originals are not present. The majority of the collection lost original order and during processing a new order was imposed to more accurately reflect folders' contents.
    In transit to Cal Poly an intermediary not affiliated with Cal Poly reorganized the collection and materials were removed and deposited at UCLA and the National Archives at San Francisco. Materials absent from the collection include documents related to the murder of Gon Ying Louis, the wife of Ah Louis; Willie Louis, Ah Louis' son from his first marriage; and personal correspondence of Ah Louis written in Chinese, which was separated from the papers and deposited at UCLA before arriving at Cal Poly.
    The Louis Family Papers are housed in 33 boxes.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Chinese--California--History--19th century.
    Chinese Americans--California--San Luis Obispo--History.
    Chinese Americans--California--History.
    San Luis Obispo (Calif.)--History
    San Luis Obispo County (Calif.)--History
    Business records
    Family papers
    Glass and film negatives
    Secondary sources

    Related Material

    Related Collections:
    Special Collections and University Archives, Cal Poly
    Sinsheimer Collection, 1868-1997 (MS 36)
    University Archives Photograph Collection
    Special Collections, Young Research Library, UCLA
    Chinese Historical Society of Southern California Chinese American Oral History Project, 1978-1991 (MS 1688)
    Ah Louis Correspondence [unprocessed]
    History Center of San Luis Obispo County (previously known as the San Luis Obispo Historical Society)