Everything you ever wanted to know about China Alley.
China Alley in Hanford, California traces its roots to 1877, when the Central Pacific railroad was
extended westward into the area and the new town of Hanford was formed.
Numerous Chinese came to the area, many initially to help build the railroads, but others came for
farming and agricultural purposes. China Alley grew rapidly and the Chinatown prospered to include
restaurants, homes, boarding houses, grocery stores, laundries, herb shops with reputable herbal doctors,
sundries stores, gambling establishments, a Chinese school and a Taoist Temple. It soon became known as
a "city within a city" with buildings lining both sides of the alley made from bricks formed and fired
Visiting Hanford's China Alley Historic District is a fascinating adventure that allows us to step back
into history. As visitors enter China Alley today, they are met with a sense of historic ambiance that
is reminiscent of a strong cultural heritage. Many of the buildings lining the alley are visually unaltered
and remain largely as they did over 100 years ago.
Various myths and folkloric legends have weaved their way into tales of this historic Alley. It has been
alleged that the population of Hanford's Chinatown went from a small but thriving number of residents to a
crowded metropolis rivaling the Chinatowns of San Francisco and Los Angeles. The stories of underground
passageways that connected the basements of some merchants on China Alley have been wildly embellished to
include tall tales of an expansive network of subterranean tunnels that reached far away from the Alley's
Some minor alterations to the ground floor of several of the buildings occurred while creating The Chinese
Pagoda and Imperial Dynasty restaurants in the late 1950s. These restaurants were established and operated by
the Wing family and once served as a catalyst for the revitalization of China Alley. For nearly 50 years until
its closure in 2006, the Imperial Dynasty was recognized as a world renowned restaurant serving continental
cuisine. The restaurant became famous for its gourmet dinners, extensive wine cellar, and escargots bourguignon.
Certified executive chef Richard Wing is widely credited as the originator of fusion cuisine as he combined
Chinese and French cooking techniques that became known as Chinoise.
One of the highlights of China Alley is The Taoist Temple Museum, listed on the National Register of Historic
Places. The Temple and Museum offers a rare and authentic experience of entering a unique and historic cultural
structure that has remained mostly unchanged over the years.
Upstairs in the Taoist Temple Museum, the original Temple exists where visitors are first met with large
plaques covered with Chinese characters that list the names of members of the Sam Yup Association who donated
funds for the construction of the building. On the south wall are wooden figures of the eight immortals while
their corresponding ceremonial staves are displayed next to the stairwell. In a corner of the room is a ceremonial
brick oven in which symbolic paper money or clothing was burned as an offering to an individual's ancestors.
Silk embroideries throughout the Temple featuring animals, birds, and shiny objects have various symbolic meanings.
A variety of tools used for individual worship remain where they were once used. Apparent on the ceiling are
different methods of lighting from bygone eras that were used to illuminate the Temple. A separate room behind
an elaborate altar served as a schoolroom so children could learn of their cultural heritage and beliefs.
The street level of the Taoist Temple Museum includes rooms that once served as sleeping quarters for single
men. These rooms now reveal a variety of artifacts from the everyday life of Hanford's Chinese residents including
kitchen items, gambling matter, and articles and furnishings from several of the Alley's herb shops. Along the
walls of the single hallway are photos of the early populace and structures of the area. A small shop occupies the
front of the ground floor where informative books and commemorative items can be purchased with the proceeds used
to assist in ongoing maintenance of the Temple and the restoration of other buildings in the Historic District.