Courtesy of Grant Avenue Follies

From the 1940s until the 1960s, San Francisco’s Chinatown was home to a thriving Chinese American nightclub scene. The clubs had names like Forbidden City, the Chinese Skyroom, and the Shanghai Low. They had showgirls, ballroom duos, comedians, jazz singers, and magic acts -- all featuring Asian-American entertainers. These clubs had wide appeal: celebrities like Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, and Lauren Bacall were all spotted over the years, along with tourists, businessmen and locals.

Photo courtesy StoryCorps


Patricia Chin was born in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  She had never left the neighborhood when she auditioned to be a chorus girl. It was quite a leap for a young Asian-American girl, born in 1935, but Chin loved the adventure, and saw it as a way to bring home extra money. Her group, the Chinese Vanities, performed in nightclubs up and down the West Coast.

Julie Caine

It’s a chilly morning in San Francisco, and a funeral is starting.

Photo by Jean-Fabien.

In the 1980s, newspapers were regularly reporting on growing Asian gang problems in Oakland and in 1981 the Oakland police department created a special unit to address the issue.

Once the unit was formed the focus of the department was to develop trust between law enforcement and the Chinatown community.