Lisa See Collection photCL 624

Suzanne Oatey
The Huntington Library
December 2021
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, California 91108
Business Number: (626) 405-2191

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


Glass plate negatives Series 1 approximately 1890s-1900s

Physical Description: 2.3 Linear Feet (7 boxes)


Organized in two subseries:
1. Views of Los Angeles' Old Chinatown and vicinity, approximately 1890s-1900s
2. Portraits, approximately 1890s-1900s

Scope and Contents

A group of 116 glass plate negatives depicting scenes in and around Los Angeles' Old Chinatown, and portraits of its Chinese residents. Only two plates have dates written on them: 1901 and 1902. The portrait sitters are unidentified except for two that have names written in Chinese.

Views of Los Angeles' Old Chinatown and vicinity Subseries 1 approximately 1890s-1900s

Physical Description: 0.83 Linear Feet(2 boxes)

Scope and Contents

Images include street scenes, buildings, and various residents in Old Chinatown, Los Angeles. There are two interior views of a restaurant, and a church. Some images have street addresses and business names known to be in Old Chinatown; others may be in the vicinity.
Box 1, Item 1

Two Chinese men posing in front of a building, wearing western suits

Box 1, Item 2

Man carrying bundles, under advertisement for "Lee Kwai Sing, No. 520, Chinese and Japanese Bazaar"

Box 1, Item 3

Three Chinese men inside a restaurant

Box 1, Item 4

Three Chinese men and one white man inside a restaurant

Box 1, Item 5

Young man sitting on stool in front of store

Box 1, Item 6

Exterior of photographer's studio, with signs in English and Chinese

Scope and Contents

Storefront has sign in English that says "Photographer" and a sign in Chinese that translates to Jinghua Photo Studio.
Box 1, Item 7

Exterior of photographer's studio, with signs in English and Chinese

Scope and Contents

Variant of Box 1 (6).
Box 1, Item 8

Detail of brick building with banners in Chinese

Box 1, Item 9

Interior of church with banners in English and Chinese 11 October 1901

Scope and Contents

View of an empty sanctuary with signs that say "China for Christ" and "20th anniversary." The glass plate has a date written on it: "Oct. 11th 1901." Research shows that this may be the Chinese Presbyterian Church at First and Wilmington streets, Los Angeles. A Los Angeles Times article, "Chinese Honor Teacher" published October 12, 1901, reported that a reception was held at that church on October 11th for missionary teacher Miss Ida Boone, in honor of the 20th anniversary of her work in the Sunday school.
Box 1, Item 10

White woman posing on ceremonial handcart, with street and advertisements in background 1902 or later

Scope and Contents

Image includes advertising poster for Florence Roberts in "Zaza" at Morosco's Burbank Theater. An article in the Los Angeles Herald, April 27, 1903, says "Zaza" first played at that theater beginning in 1902. An advertisement for Levi, Strauss & Co., San Francisco, also appears in the image.
Box 1, Item 11

Boy standing in front of building on Ferguson Alley

Scope and Contents

Sign above doorway reads "Wing Hong Sun Fat Kee" and "205." Research shows this shop owner appears in the 1901 Los Angeles City Directory at 205 N. Ferguson Alley (Chinatown).
Box 1, Item 12

Street view of horse-drawn carts and building with balconies

Box 1, Item 13

Copy photograph of a three-story building with hanging lanterns

Box 1, Item 14

Chinese men holding a pig down in a fenced area

Box 1, Item 15

Man posed on a sailing ship's deck

Box 1, Item 16

Copy photograph of men posed as the Eight Immortals from Chinese mythology

Box 1, Item 17

Detail of a hand with very long nails

Box 2, Item 1

Two Chinese men on bicycles

Box 2, Item 2

Man sitting on horse-drawn wagon painted with lettering: "Commission Merchants"

Box 2, Item 3

Man standing in front of store, Sang Yuen & Co., with bottled goods in window

Scope and Contents

A box on the ground is marked "F.A. Heim Bottling Works, Los Angeles."
Box 2, Item 4

Person with long ponytail walking down street

Box 2, Item 5-8

Street scenes in Old Chinatown

Physical Description: Four glass plate negatives.

Conditions Governing Access

Unavailable for paging. These four glass plate negatives were received fused together and the Conservation Department advises the emulsion layers will be destroyed if they are separated. See digitized versions in the Huntington Digital Library.
Box 2, Item 9-13

Views of the intersection of Alameda Street and Marchessault Street in Old Chinatown

Scope and Contents

Five photographs taken from the same location on Alameda Street, showing buildings and various people in the street.
Box 2, Item 14

Man and four children outside store, Kwong On & Co., address number 432

Box 2, Item 15

Boy standing on pile of rubble

Box 2, Item 16

Group of Chinese children outside with two women

Box 2, Item 17

Street scene of storefronts and horse-drawn wagon

Box 2, Item 18

Boy standing in front of building, holding basket

Box 2, Item 19

Adult and child walking on street, near building

Box 2, Item 20

Adults and children walking by wooden buildings


Portraits Subseries 2 approximately 1890s-1900s

Physical Description: 1.46 Linear Feet (5 boxes)

Scope and Contents

There are two styles of portraits represented: Full-length studio portraits, seated or standing, with props and elaborate dress, and simple head-shot portraits, mostly of Chinese men. Chinese women appear in eight portraits, and there is one group portrait of three Chinese children.


Arranged by subject: group portraits, followed by individual men, then individual women.
Box 3, Item 1

Portrait of two Chinese men seated on either side of a small table

Box 3, Item 2

Portrait of two young Chinese men

Box 3, Item 3

Portrait of two Chinese men standing, both wearing glasses

Box 3, Item 4

Portrait of two Chinese men, standing, looking at a newspaper

Box 3, Item 5

Portrait of two Chinese men, seated

Box 3, Item 6

Portrait of two Chinese men, seated, holding incense and pipes

Box 3, Item 7

Portrait of four men with musical instruments

Box 3, Item 8

Portrait of four men with musical instruments, alternate pose

Scope and Contents

Variant pose of Box 3 (7).
Box 3, Item 9

Portrait of three Chinese children

Box 3, Item 10

Head-shot portrait of a Chinese man, Senying? Huang 1902

Scope and Contents

The date "1902" is written on plate, and Chinese writing that translates to the surname Huang and possibly Senying (difficult to read).
Box 3, Item 11

Head-shot portrait of a Chinese man, Ke Hu 1902? April 26

Scope and Contents

The date "April 26, 19" (last two digits missing) is written on the plate, and Chinese writing that translates to "Hu Ke." (Surname: Hu.)
Box 3, Item 12-16

Head-shot portraits of Chinese men

Physical Description: 9 Items

Scope and Contents

Five men are wearing western-style suits.
Box 4, Item 1-8

Head-shot portraits of Chinese men

Physical Description: 8 Items
Box 5

Head-shot portraits of Chinese men

Physical Description: 15 Items
Box 6

Head-shot portraits of Chinese men

Physical Description: 16 Items
Box 7

Head-shot portraits of Chinese men

Physical Description: 15 Items
Box 4, Item 9-10

Head-shot portraits of a woman, with bare shoulders

Scope and Contents

Two variant views of the same woman.
Box 4, Item 11

Portrait of a Chinese woman standing and holding parasol, with a small dog on a chair

Box 4, Item 12

Portrait of a Chinese woman standing, with small dog on leash

Box 4, Item 13

Portrait of a Chinese woman seated, wearing pleated dress and striped stockings

Box 4, Item 14

Portrait of a Chinese woman, standing, wearing dress with ruffles

Box 4, Item 15

Portrait of a Chinese woman, seated, wearing dress with ruffles

Box 9

Photograph album Series 2 approximately 1890s-1900s

Physical Description: 1.5 Linear Feet (1 album in an oversize box)
Physical Description: An ornate photograph album wrapped in green velvet and attached to a wooden display stand. The album folds down for opening and reveals a mirror on the stand. The pages are decorated paper, with inserts for photographs.

Scope and Contents

A photograph album containing 12 photographs of Chinese men and women, with several empty pages. Eight cabinet card portraits have the imprint of professional photographers in Los Angeles: James B. Blanchard, Blanchard & Konold, George N. Dewey, Lamson Studio, J. A. Reynolds, and Michael A. Wesner. Based on known years of activity for these photographers, these portraits were most likely taken between 1891 and 1902.

Conditions Governing Access

RESTRICTED: Album is fragile; available with curatorial approval.
Box 8

Loose photographs Series 3 approximately 1881-1910

Physical Description: 6 Photographic Prints

Scope and Contents

Six studio portraits: four of Chinese and non-Chinese women, and two of Chinese children. These card photographs have the imprints of five different photographers in Los Angeles, and one in San Francisco. Dates are estimated based on years the photographers operated at their imprinted addresses. Source: Mautz, Carl. Biographies of Western Photographers: A Reference Guide to Photographers Working in the 19th Century American West, (Nevada City, Calif: Carl Mautz Publishing, 2018).
Box 8, Item 1

Portrait of a Chinese woman standing next to table and chair approximately 1890-1910

Scope and Contents

Cabinet card stamped in red ink: "Yee, Photo / 510 N. Los Angeles St. / Los Angeles, Cal." Possibly Wy Yee, a photographer active in Los Angeles at this time.
Box 8, Item 2

Portrait of a Chinese woman, seated, holding objects approximately 1881-1900

Scope and Contents

Cabinet card with photographer's imprint on back: William Shew's Photographic Establishment, San Francisco.
Box 8, Item 3

Portrait of a white woman, in profile approximately 1892

Scope and Contents

Cabinet card with photographer's imprint: Lamson Studio, Los Angeles.
Box 8, Item 4

Portrait of four Chinese children approximately 1896-1907 or later

Scope and Contents

Cabinet card with photographer's imprint: Wesner / 120 North Spring St. / Los Angeles.
Box 8, Item 5

Portrait of a Chinese boy, standing approximately 1895-1899

Scope and Contents

Cabinet card with photographer's imprint: Plaza Gallery / 513 N. Main Street, Los Angeles. This same boy appears in a thumbnail portrait in the photograph album (Box 9).
Box 8, Item 6

Portrait of Miss Dora Warner approximately 1896

Scope and Contents

Cabinet card portrait of a woman with photographer's imprint: Bijou Studio, Los Angeles. Handwritten inscription on back of photograph: "Miss Dora Warner, University Place / To Her Friend, Mrs? Gluck."