Beyond the Gate: A Tale of Portland’s Historic Chinatowns

1939 Chinese New Year, Portland

February 29 – June 21, 2016

  • Free for Members
  • Family-friendly
  • Researchers
  • Teachers
  • Handicap Accessible Friendly

Location:
Oregon Historical Society
1200 SW Park Ave
Portland, Oregon 97205
Get Directions

Using both rare and seldom seen objects like Chinese opera costumes, theatrical sets, bilingual text, audiovisual media, and interactive visitor stations, Beyond the Gate will tell a sprawling transnational story of contact and trade between China and the West, focusing on Portland’s Old (1850-1905) and New Chinatown (1905-1950).

Chinese Vendor, 1888 OrHi 13127 ba018120

Chinese Vendor, 1888 OrHi 13127 ba018120 

Gardens on current site of Multnomah Stadium.  346p082 CN 020542 bb007389 2

Gardens on current site of Multnomah Stadium. 346p082 CN 020542 bb007389 2

Two Chinese vegetable vendors, probably circa 1890's. #1662 OrHi 13128 bb007429

Two Chinese vegetable vendors, probably circa 1890's. #1662 OrHi 13128 bb007429

First House in Forest Grove, OR.  353 P 083 OrHi 83337 bb006699

First House in Forest Grove, OR. 353 P 083 OrHi 83337 bb006699 

1st Floor Shops, Building Between Alder & Morrison c. 1890

1st Floor Shops, Building Between Alder & Morrison c. 1890 

Chinese restaurant, Portland, Oregon, ca. 1890. OrHi 46031 ba011632

Chinese restaurant, Portland, Oregon, ca. 1890. OrHi 46031 ba011632

Portrait of Unidentified Chinese woman (possibly Poon La), Thomas J. Cronise Studio, Salem, OR, ca. 1890s

Portrait of Unidentified Chinese woman (possibly Poon La), ca. 1890s
Portrait taken at the Thomas J. Cronise Studio in Salem, OR
Norma O'Kelley Collection, Org. Lot 480, Folder 12

Moy Back Hin. CN 012842 095 P 019 bb002398

Moy Back Hin. CN 012842 095 P 019 bb002398

Belle Crest,Portland, OR. Subdivision work, NE Sandy/65/Siskiyou. Photo Art neg.  #1680. OrHi 38805-a bb007296

Belle Crest,Portland, OR. Subdivision work, NE Sandy/65/Siskiyou. Photo Art neg. #1680. OrHi 38805-a bb007296

Chinese laborer, Portland, Oregon. #1662 OrHI 23349 bb002409

Chinese laborer, Portland, Oregon. #1662 OrHI 23349 bb002409

Wing Sing & Co, Portalnd, Oregon 1894 351 P 159; OrHi 45704 bb002412

Wing Sing & Co, Portalnd, Oregon 1894 351 P 159; OrHi 45704 bb002412

 

Portrait of a Chinese "mine boss". #583-A; OrHi 21993 bb002462

Portrait of a Chinese "mine boss". #583-A; OrHi 21993 bb002462

Chinese man fishing on the Columbia River. 227 S 145; CN 016278 bb002463

Chinese man fishing on the Columbia River. 227 S 145; CN 016278 bb002463

Gathering at Andrew Kim's House, Portland, 1895 Orhi 59204 ba018486

Gathering at Andrew Kim's House, Portland, 1895 Orhi 59204 ba018486

Chinese Girl, Portland OrHi 28060 ba019212

Chinese Girl, Portland OrHi 28060 ba019212

Chinatown, Portland, Oregon. Oregonian 4979 bb002386

Chinatown, Portland, Oregon. Oregonian 4979 bb002386

Portland Chinatown, c. 1900 OrHi 9067 ba018014

Portland Chinatown, c. 1900 OrHi 9067 ba018014 

Two Chinese Girls in Traditional Chinese Dress and Western Boots, Portland, OR, ca .1905

Two Chinese Girls in Traditional Chinese Dress and Western Boots, Portland, OR, ca .1905>
Norma O'Kelley Collection, Org Lot 480, Folder 12, Neg. # OrHi 015391

Chinese National Party, Portland, 1914 OrHi 59667 ba018485

Chinese National Party, Portland, 1914 OrHi 59667 ba018485 

Portrait of Jim, a Chinese laundry man in Dallas, Oregon.  He sent this photograph home to his family in China. OrHi 45046 bb004304

Portrait of Jim, a Chinese laundry man in Dallas, Oregon. He sent this photograph home to his family in China. OrHi 45046 bb004304

Sam Lee, clam digger at Seaside, Oregon. OrHi 45703 bb004312

Sam Lee, clam digger at Seaside, Oregon. OrHi 45703 bb004312

Chin Gee Hee Chinese contractor. Curtis, Asahel, Photographer. OrHi 45706 bb004350

Chin Gee Hee Chinese contractor. Curtis, Asahel, Photographer. OrHi 45706 bb004350

Astoria. Laborers (some Chinese) lifting fish from floor.  #238-A OrHi 23145 bb006259

Astoria. Laborers (some Chinese) lifting fish from floor. #238-A OrHi 23145 bb006259

George Sun’s Store, Salem, OR, ca. 1920s

George Sun's Store, Salem, OR, ca. 1920s
From left to right: Maxine Lai Sun, George Lai Sun, Hem Lai Sun
Norma O'Kelley Collection, Org. Lot 480, Box 1, Neg. #OrHi019922

Immigration agent guarding Chinese deportees.  Photo taken August 9, 1924. OrHi 48768 bb004310

Immigration agent guarding Chinese deportees. Photo taken August 9, 1924. OrHi 48768 bb004310

Page 32 of Chinese Language Text Book, ca. 1925

Page 32 of Chinese Language Text Book, ca. 1925
Education Collection, Box 45, Folder 1

Fourth Street view of the building where the Hop Sing tong has its headquarters.  Taken March 8, 1931. OrHi 55571 bb004087

Fourth Street view of the building where the Hop Sing tong has its headquarters. Taken March 8, 1931. OrHi 55571 bb004087 

1939 Chinese New Years

1939 Chinese New Years

Chinese picketing scrap metal Portland Oregon United States 1939 Photograph Cellulose negative b&w 4x5 inches  Photo file #238-a OrHi 13264 bb009686

Chinese picketing scrap metal Portland Oregon United States 1939 Photograph Cellulose negative b&w 4x5 inches Photo file #238-a OrHi 13264 bb009686 

Chinese dragon dances for crowd assembled at SW 2nd & Oak as firecrackers explode. Hoy Sun Low restaurant, L. 2/4/1940. CN 024382 1055-15

Chinese dragon dances for crowd assembled at SW 2nd & Oak as firecrackers explode. Hoy Sun Low restaurant, L. 2/4/1940. CN 024382 1055-15

 
Chinese New Year, Feb. 8, 1940, Al Monner Collection_1

Chinese New Year, Feb. 8, 1940, Al Monner Collection_1 

Chinese New Year, Feb. 8, 1940, Al Monner Collection_2

Chinese New Year, Feb. 8, 1940, Al Monner Collection_2 

Chinese New Year, Feb. 8, 1940, Al Monner Collection_3

Chinese New Year, Feb. 8, 1940, Al Monner Collection_3 

Chinese New Year, Feb. 8, 1940, Al Monner Collection_4

Chinese New Year, Feb. 8, 1940, Al Monner Collection_4 

Chinese New Year, Feb. 8, 1940, Al Monner Collection_5

Chinese New Year, Feb. 8, 1940, Al Monner Collection_5 

Chinese New Year, Feb. 8, 1940, Al Monner Collection_6

Chinese New Year, Feb. 8, 1940, Al Monner Collection_6 

Chinese New Year, Feb. 8, 1940, Al Monner Collection_7

Chinese New Year, Feb. 8, 1940, Al Monner Collection_7 

Helen Lee, Phyllis Wong. American Bureau for medical aides to China button sales.  United States  9/23/1940 Oregonian (Portland, Or.) Photo file #238-a Photograph  Cellulose negative  b&w  4x5 inches OrHi 26030 bb009682

Helen Lee, Phyllis Wong. American Bureau for medical aides to China button sales. United States 9/23/1940 Oregonian (Portland, Or.) Photo file #238-a Photograph Cellulose negative b&w 4x5 inches OrHi 26030 bb009682

Unidentified Woman, ca. 1940s

Unknown Woman, ca. 1940s
Norma O'Kelley Collection, Org. Lot 480, Folder 12

1947 Fong Lee Printing and Engraving Calendar, 412 NW Everett Streeet, Portland

Fong Lee Printing and Engraving Calendar, 1947
Fong Lee Printing, located at 412 NW Everett Street in Portland
Unknown Advertisement Collection, Coll. 410, Misc. Direct Mail Folder

1950s 2nd and Oak Hong Kong Cafe

1950s 2nd and Oak Hong Kong Cafe 

Chinese Restaurant Supply, May 12, 1957, Oregon Journal Collection, Box 198, Folder 98

Chinese Restaurant Supply, May 12, 1957, Oregon Journal Collection, Box 198, Folder 98

Hung Far Low, 112 NW 4th, Portland, 1971

Hung Far Low, 112 NW 4th, Portland, 1971
Restaurant Advertising Collection, Org Lot 972, Box 4

In 1792, following a trip to China, Captain Robert Gray sailed the Columbia Rediviva up the Columbia River, establishing a U.S. claim to the Oregon Country. The ship carried Canton dinnerware which would later find its way to the Oregon Historical Society. These events launched a tidal wave of material exchange and of human migration from China to Oregon and Washington, which continues today.

After gold was discovered in 1848, Chinese miners, laundrymen, cooks, gardeners, merchants, and doctors migrated to California and the Northwest. 

By the 1900s, Portland was home to the second largest Chinatown in the United States. Centered on SW 2nd and Front Avenues,  the first floors of Old Chinatown businesses included a mixture of grocers, doctors, vendors, and tradesmen of all kinds. Second and third floors often housed restaurants and apartments. Three Chinese theaters and three temples thrived.

The 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition and Oriental Fair brought tens of thousands of visitors to the Rose City and sparked a building boom. Many Chinese merchants left the aging buildings of Old Chinatown, reinvesting in NW Portland near Union Station, and establishing a New Chinatown.

This exhibition brings to life the vibrant the sights and sounds of places of business, education, and entertainment, offering visitors a glimpse of life beyond the gate. 

News Coverage

Chinese American History is American History

Huffington Post, April 1, 2016

"They were there at the beginning," Jennifer Fang told me. "Chinese Americans were an integral part of the founding of Portland," she continued. Historian Fang said that was the most striking realization she came to as the associate curator for a new exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society. It is the local companion to a national show on Chinese immigrants (for which I did a tiny bit of work). "It is the story of an ethnic group," she acknowledged. "But it turns out to be much more than that."

Being a Citizen, Being Chinese

Portland Tribune, March 17, 2016

Pair of OHS shows traces complex path of immigrants in Portland, nation. At one time, Chinatown was part of downtown Portland and was the second-largest community of Chinese in the country, after San Francisco. That was from 1870 to 1900, just off the Willamette River waterfront, and before the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition and Oriental Fair, when Portland became an attractive city to the masses and lured more money, business, bigger buildings and people to downtown. Chinatown later moved north of Burnside Street, where it still exists, although beyond the ornate gate, Chinatown is very small compared to its heyday.