fortune cookie factory on Ross Alley

I found these interesting excerpt from The Examiner‘s recently issued free magazine, Bridge to Bridge: Your 2008 neighborhood guide to San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

The mere mention of Chinatown still evokes exotic tales of mystery from San Francisco’s past. The largest Chinese neighborhood outside of China remains a destination that’s filled with surprises among the gift bazaars and elbow-to-elbow sidewalk traffic.

Due to the density of living quarters in Chinatown, Portsmouth Square at Clay and Kearney Streets has long been known as the living room of Chinatown and its social epicenter and, until the practice was banned in all San Francisco parks, as its smoking parlor. But Portsmouth Square is also a mini-museum, with its various monuments to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, the location of the first public school in California, and the site where Captain John B. Montgomery of the USS Portsmouth raised the first American flag in San Francisco.

Locals have long since discovered the fortune cookie factory on Ross Alley. They also know that this is the best neighborhood for inexpensive cookware, but even a native San Franciscan may overlook an uncelebrated landmark. A plaque on the wall outside among the wares at 823 Grant Avenue marks the location of the City’s first home. Yerba Buena Island founder William A. Richardson erected a tent dwelling here in 1835 and replaced it with a wooden house the following year.

Chinatown architecture is almost entirely European with Asian-style motifs added liberally. However, an authentic pagoda tops the Bank of Canton building, 743 Washington Street. Chinatown is comprised mainly of two parallel streets, Stockton Street and Grant Avenue. Grant is the oldest street in San Francisco. It was known as Dupont Street before the section from Bush Street to Market Street was renamed in 1876. In 1908, the rest of Dupont became Grant. Even before it was called Dupont, the street was known Calle de la Fundacion, street of the founding.

Chinatown meets the Financial District at Grant Avenue and California Street at Old St. Mary’s church. The biblical inscription on the south face of the church clock was originally directed at patrons of the Barbary Coast brothels that operated across the street. The inscription warns, “Son observe the time and fly from evil.”


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