Saturday, May 09, 2009

San Francisco field trip

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Though it seems a bit early in the season, the tourists were out in force on this lovely day.

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At the base of Lombard St. -- the so-called crookedest street in the world -- many take pictures. Lombard Street's claim seems a con to me. There's a far more crooked street over on Potrero Hill. I'm not going to advertise where that is.

Little do these folks seem to know that they are only a block from a much more consequential landmark. In the late 1800s, at 2245 Jones St., a Chinese immigrant named Yick Wo ran a laundry. In those days, most laundries in the city were run by Chinese immigrants -- and nearly all laundries, regardless of the ethnicity of the owners, were located in wooden buildings.

In 1880, during one of white San Francisco's periodic anti-Chinese panics, the city fathers ordered all laundries located in wooden structures to obtain a special permit. According to the Wikipedia,

Although most of the city's wooden building laundry owners applied for a permit, none were granted to any Chinese owner, while only one out of approximately eighty non-Chinese applicants was denied a permit.

Yick Wo had been in business for 22 years; he kept working, was arrested, fined $10, and ordered jailed for 10 days for operating without a permit.

He appealed to the California Supreme Court but his conviction was upheld. However the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that he had a constitutional right to expect equal protection of the law under the 14th Amendment. Even though the laundry ordinance was not discriminatory on its face, San Francisco's racially discriminatory application of the law violated the constitution. The decision was rendered on May 10, 1886.

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Today there's an elementary school at the site of the laundry. I saw no historical plaque explaining the importance of the name.

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Most likely it's the proximity of Lombard Street that creates the need for this prohibition on photos of the school children.

I was pointed to this item by Progressive Nation: A Travel Guide with 400+ Inspiring Landmarks and Left Turns. If I ever get a chance to do a lengthy road trip, I'll post about more of them.

1 comment:

Darlene said...

Thank you for an interesting bit of history. I love San Francisco and always try to visit when I am in California visiting my daughter.

Your photo of the photographer's at the foot of Lombard Street was a winner.

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