1889: The Clark Street Chinatown Reaches Maturity

First settled by Chinese in the mid-1870s, the area on Clark between Van Buren and Harrison had matured into a true Chinatown (although not usually called by that name) by the late 1880s. In 1889 a Tribune reporter noted that Clark and nearby streets had the following Chinese businesses: eight grocery stores. two drug stores, two butchers’ shops, two barber shops, one cigar factory, three “ministers” (according to the reporter, former “Grand Masters” in “Masonic” [Hong Mun Society?] lodges), two artists who provided portraits for sending home to relatives in China, one unnamed restaurant, and three farmers whose farms (actually, market gardens) were on Milwaukee Avenue, in Hyde Park, and near Joliet.

The shop owned by Moy Dong Chew 梅宗周 (often called Hip Lung, which actually was the name of his store) at 323 Clark Street was said to be “by all odds the handsomest Chinese shop in the country, excepting one in San Francisco.” Decorated with elaborate woodcarvings and rich draperies, the shop was furnished with carved ebony chairs and silver-plated tobacco pipes for use by customers. It sold silks, Chinese shoes (at $3,50 a pair), Chinese musical instruments, clothing, beautifully painted and carved silk fans, pickles, sausages, seaweed, vegetables, melons, gumbo, salt fish, squash, dried shrimps, tea, “and a hundred other articles.” The picture below is of the second-ranked store, Bow Wow [or Wo] Fung, of which the senior owners were E. Wing and Moy Dong Chew. Both shops were kept “as neat and clean as a parlor.”


The unnamed restaurant, owned by Lee Shing Hok and Lee Sing Mong, was in the basement at 329 Clark Street, under Bow Wow Fung. It may have been the first Chinese restaurant, as distinguished from boarding house dining rooms, in Chicago. It had tables covered with white tablecloths, had knives and forks as well as chopsticks, and served “ducks, chickens, pork, berries, and all kinds of steaks.” European-American customers were welcome as long as they came to eat rather than to ridicule Chinese cooking and eating habits.

The first Chinese farms, each several acres in size, had just been established in 1888. All three raised Chinese vegetables from imported seeds — turnips, pumpkins, summer squash, cabbage, foot-long string beans, snow peas, watermelons, “Chinese fruits,” and nuts.
It is significant that five of the grocery stores – Kong Hop Long (291½ Clark), Ye Wah (293 Clark), Yoen Wah (315 Clark), Hong Fung (319 Clark), and Loy On (311 Clark) are not listed in the Lakeside Directories for these years. Either the canvassers for the directory publishers were careless or they did not have access to every business in Chinatown.