San Luis Obispo History 


Ah Building

San Luis Obispo, CA--In 1872, a one block area of San Luis Obispo was known as Chinatown. 


Wong On (later nicknamed Ah Louis) established a store on that block in SLO in 1874. In 1875, he ran newspaper advertisements for his store and labor contracting business which was located at the corner of Chorro and Palm Streets.  


Ah Louis saw the need for a labor force to assist in the construction of public works projects and acted as sponsor to immigrants who repaid him through a labor arrangement. Many such pioneers were involved in building Californiaa's infrastructure.  Ah Louis' store is still in operation and is now run by his son.


Here in 1874 was established Ah Louis' Store.  The first Chinese store in the county, it sold general merchandise and herbs and served as a bank, counting house, and post office for the numerous Chinese coolies who dug the eight tunnels through the mountains of Cuesta for the Southern Pacific Railroad, 1884 to 1894.  California Registered Historical Landmark No. 802 




SAN LUIS OBISPO'S CHINESE:  They Came for a Better Life  


In 1850, the discovery of gold drew people from all over the world to California. A Taiping Rebellion  of 1850 to 1864 created hardships in China and provided impetus for migration to the United States. The seafaring people of China's Guang Dong Province were experienced travelers who eagerly sought opportunities to ply their trades in the new land. Businessmen, doctors, engineers and laborers all settled in California. 


By 1852, Chinese made up one third of all the immigrants to California and in 1868, the Burlingame Treaty officially opened  immigration between China and the US.  Not all was well as unrest and discrimination grew with the rise of inflation and recession in 1870. At the same time other ethnic groups floundered, the Chinese excelled.  California's largest export during this time was dried seafood bound for Hong Kong.   "Foreign Miners License Law" which limited the number of Chinese miners  and the Workingman's Party with its slogan, "The Chinese must go," only fueled a fire of anguish and fear. An innocent Chinese man was taken from his SLO home and murdered and riot raged between Chinese and Caucasians in San Francisco's Chinatown for two days.  


Additional actions and policies against Chinese included:  


  • A policy to remove Chinese laundries from the San Luis Obispo city limits in 1880.
  • Passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act (United State's first immigration law) which denied the Chinese the right to US citizenship. It remained in effect until 1943. 
  • The Scott Act of 1888, which prevented any Chinese who returned to China from coming back to the US. 
  • The Geary Act of 1892, an outgrowth of the Chinese Exclusion Act, required all Chinese people who were legally in the US to obtain Certificates of Residence. 
Lost are many stories and written histories of the Chinese who helped build California and turn it into a world leader in the import - export trade. The population of Chinese Americans was once 10% and is now under 5%.