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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Preferred Citation
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Custodial History
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Scope and Contents
  • Processing Information
  • Arrangement
  • Existence and Location of Copies

  • Contributing Institution: The Huntington Library
    Title: Lisa See collection
    Identifier/Call Number: photCL 624
    Physical Description: 4.97 Linear Feet (9 boxes)
    Date (inclusive): approximately 1881-1910
    Date (bulk): 1890s-1900s
    Abstract: A collection of photographs primarily of Los Angeles' Old Chinatown and portraits of its Chinese residents, dating from approximately 1881 to 1910.
    Language of Material: Materials are in English.

    Conditions Governing Access

    Open for use by qualified researchers and by appointment. Please contact Reader Services at the Huntington Library for more information. RESTRICTED: Photograph album (Box 9): Fragile; available with curatorial approval.

    Conditions Governing Use

    The Huntington Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of this material, nor does it charge fees for such activities. The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the researcher.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item]. Lisa See collection, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Lisa See, December 2020 and February 2021.

    Custodial History

    The photographs were found in the 1940s by donor Lisa See's father, Richard See, and her grandfather, Eddy See, in or around their family's antique business, F. Suie One Company, when it was located at 510 Los Angeles Street. The store was located on one of the last blocks of Old Chinatown to be demolished. One cabinet card photograph in the collection is stamped "Yee, Photo / 510 North Los Angeles Street," the same address, so possibly the location was formerly a photography studio.

    Biographical / Historical

    Old Chinatown refers to the original Chinatown of Los Angeles, which thrived mainly from 1890 to 1910, before it was largely cleared in the 1930s for the building of Union Station and other civic development. In 1938, New Chinatown opened several blocks away in downtown Los Angeles.

    Biographical / Historical

    American author Lisa See was born in Paris in 1955 but grew up in Los Angeles. She lived with her mother, author Carolyn See, but spent much of her time with her father's family in Chinatown. Her first book, "On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of a Chinese-American Family" (1995) tells the story of her great-grandfather, Fong See, who eventually became the godfather of Los Angeles' Chinatown.

    Scope and Contents

    This collection contains photographs of Los Angeles' Old Chinatown and portraits of its Chinese residents, most dating from the 1890s to the 1900s. Together there are 116 glass plate negatives ranging in size from 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches to 5 x 7 inches, an ornate photograph album containing 12 studio portraits of Chinese men and women, and six additional card photograph portraits. Some of the card photographs have the imprint of professional photographers, but it is unclear who took the glass plate negatives, or if there was more than one photographer. They may be connected to a photographer "Yee" who at one time had a studio at 510 North Los Angeles Street in Old Chinatown (see photograph Box 8 (1)). This could possibly be Wy Yee, a photographer during the same time period. In addition, there are two glass plate images of a photographer's storefront with a sign in Chinese that translates to Jinghua Photo Studio.
    Scenes in Old Chinatown include: street views of buildings and storefronts; Chinese and a few white people walking in the streets; the interior of a restaurant and three Chinese workers posing for the camera; two men on bicycles; and other candid photographs of people in daily activities. Some buildings have store signs in English and Chinese.
    The majority of photographs are portraits of primarily Chinese sitters. Several are posed studio portraits of men, women, or children, wearing traditional or western clothing, with elaborate props and backdrops. Other portraits are simple head shots of Chinese men, one of which has the handwritten date "1902," the year that the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was made permanent and required Chinese residents to register and obtain immigration documents. The portraits of Chinese women are mostly elegant studio portraits with props, except for two head shot images of a woman with bare shoulders.
    Photographer imprints on card photographs are: Bijou Studio, James Blanchard, George Dewey, J. H. Lamson Company, Michael A. Wesner, and "Yee," who may be photographer Wy Yee, all of Los Angeles. There is one portrait of a Chinese woman by William Shew, San Francisco.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Suzanne Oatey in December 2021.


    Organized in three series:
    • Series 1. Glass plate negatives, approximately 1890s-1900s
    • Subseries 1. Views of Los Angeles' Old Chinatown and vicinity
    • Subseries 2. Portraits
    • Series 2. Photograph album, approximately 1890s-1900s
    • Series 3. Loose photographs, approximately 1881-1910

    Existence and Location of Copies

    This collection has been digitized in its entirety and the digital reproductions are available in the Huntington Digital Library. 

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Chinatown (Los Angeles, Calif.) -- Photographs
    Chinese -- California -- Los Angeles -- Photographs
    Chinese Americans -- California -- Los Angeles -- Photographs
    Los Angeles (Calif.) -- History -- 19th century -- Photographs
    Los Angeles (Calif.) -- History -- 20th century -- Photographs
    Photography -- Studios and dark rooms
    Card photographs (photographs)
    Glass plate negatives
    Photograph albums
    Blanchard, James B., photographer
    Dewey, George N., photographer
    Lamson, Joseph Harrison, 1840-1902, photographer
    Shew, William J., 1820-1903
    Wesner, Michael A., photographer