A Bruce Lee strolling tour of San Francisco’s Chinatown

Here is a enjoyable query on your subsequent joyful hour debate: Who’s San Francisco’s most well-known native son?

There are definitely some compelling candidates: Joe DiMaggio, Clint Eastwood, Carlos Santana and Gavin Newsom come to thoughts. However to me, the reply is all the time going to be Bruce Lee. Even now, half a century after his dying, Bruce stays a world icon whose legacy continues to resonate in all kinds of how, from his pioneering imaginative and prescient for the martial arts to his huge influence in evolving social perceptions. Past his enduring relevance, he’s additionally the one San Franciscan I do know of with full-sized statues on 4 continents.

Oddly sufficient, his candidacy as our most well-known San Franciscan has gone unusually unacknowledged over time. Regardless of his recognition around the globe, many San Francisco residents don’t know that he was born right here. The truth is, he did not even make the reduce when the Daring Italic ran an article in 2014 itemizing our metropolis’s “most well-known natives.” On this sense, a lot of Lee’s Bay Space origin story has existed in a hazy city mythology that perennially teeters between obscurity and hyperbole.

Photographs through Getty and Charles Russo; illustration by SFGATE

This week, the Chinese language Historic Society of America Museum in Chinatown launches its much-anticipated “We Are Bruce Lee: Underneath the Sky, One Household” exhibit to totally have fun the martial arts legend just some blocks from the place he was born. As one among Lee’s latest biographers, I believe it’s an opportune second to sift via the city mythology surrounding him in his native neighborhood and create a strolling tour of probably the most iconic places from his life on this facet of the bay. From the the constructing the place he taught locals to bounce the cha-cha to the websites that factored into his involvement in probably the most legendary martial arts showdown in historical past, listed below are 10 locations (plus three murals on the map above) that each Bruce Lee fan ought to go to.

Doc through the Nationwide Archives and Data Administration in San Bruno, CA

Chinese language Hospital

845 Jackson St.

Bruce Lee — or Lee Jun Fan, as his mom named him — was born on Nov. 27, 1940, within the Yr of the Dragon, on the Hour of the Dragon.

Because the story goes, a nurse urged his mom, Grace, to decide on an “American title,” too. Somebody within the room steered Bruce. However it might be a very long time earlier than he used that title: Bruce didn’t even learn about it till he was 13.

Grace hailed from one among Hong Kong’s most rich and influential households. At one level, her uncle Robert Ho Tung was the wealthiest man within the nation and was straight concerned with the likes of Queen Mary, Solar Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek. Lee’s maternal grandfather had 29 kids between one spouse and 13 concubines, but his mom is believed to be the results of an affair his grandfather had with an English lady. His blended race heritage would show to be each a hurdle and an asset at totally different levels of his life.

The Chinese language Hospital underwent a significant renovation prior to now 10 years, sadly discarding a lot of its earlier architectural appeal. A plaque commemorating Lee’s start was put in in 1998 and might presently be discovered within the reception space of the foyer.

Photographs by Charles Russo and OpenSFHistory/wnp5.50416

The Solar Sing Theater

1029 Grant Ave.

Lee was born into present enterprise. The truth is, his San Francisco origins are a results of his father’s travels as a widely known comedic actor of each stage and display.

Inbuilt 1924, the Mandarin Theater, later rechristened in 1949 because the Solar Sing, opened within the coronary heart of Chinatown as one of many premiere new opera homes locally. Nonetheless, there was fierce, Las Vegas-style competitors between the Mandarin and the Nice China, now the Nice Star, a block away. Every tried to high the opposite by luring top-tier stage expertise from China with the promise of unique (and profitable) efficiency residencies.

Doc through the Nationwide Archives and Data Administration in San Bruno, CA

It was inside this aggressive present enterprise dynamic that the Mandarin booked Bruce’s father Lee Hoi-chuen together with different members of Hong Kong’s Cantonese opera troupe in late 1939. Bruce’s mom, Grace, got here alongside because the troupe’s wardrobe supervisor. This association was distinctive at a time when two discriminatory payments — the Chinese language Exclusion Act and the Johnson-Reed Act — primarily thwarted citizenship alternatives for the Chinese language in America.

The Solar Sing would play one other pivotal function in Lee’s life years later in 1964, when he took to the stage for a kung fu demonstration which went wildly off the rails and additional provoked simmering tensions between him and different members Chinatown’s kung fu neighborhood — tensions which might finally erupt into his legendary showdown with younger kung fu ace Wong Jack Man later that yr in Oakland.

Picture through On-line Archive of California and by Charles Russo

The Nice Star Theater

636 Jackson St.

The Mandarin Theater’s rival, the Nice Star, was the place Lee technically launched his film profession in 1941, when he was simply an toddler. He performed a new child woman within the Cantonese-language movie “Golden Gate Woman,” led by pioneering director Esther Eng, who spent a lot of the ’40s as America’s solely feminine film director. Eng was an in depth good friend of Lee’s household, even performing because the authorized witness on a lot of their immigration paperwork.

Now approaching its one hundredth yr, the Nice Star was just lately renovated and stays a key piece of Chinatown cultural historical past. (If you happen to’re seeking to watch a Bruce Lee film, it has screened them many occasions over time.)

Movie nonetheless courtesy of Sally Eng through Blue Queen Cultural Communication Ltd.

Jackson Road residence

654 Jackson St.

Quickly after filming “Golden Gate Woman,” Lee’s household moved again to Hong Kong, the place they lived via the warfare years in relative affluence. As an adolescent, Lee skilled in Wing Chun kung fu beneath (now-)legendary grasp Ip Man.

In 1959, at age 18, Lee’s involvement with the native kung fu youth gangs precipitated his dad and mom to place him on an ocean liner to San Francisco, to each extricate him from hassle and take full benefit of his citizenship. He moved in with household good friend Quan Ging Ho, at 654 Jackson St. The residence was cramped and Spartan, nothing like his life again dwelling, the place his household lived with home servants and a chauffeur.

Bruce lived there for about 3 months earlier than relocating to Seattle for varsity.

Kum Hon Restaurant

655 Jackson St.

Not lengthy after Lee arrived again to Chinatown, Quan received him a job bussing tables at a restaurant throughout the road from his dwelling. It was Lee’s first paid job — and he barely lasted every week.

Picture courtesy of Kem Lee Property/UC Berkeley and by Charles Russo

Hung Sing Studio

63 Walter U. Lum Place

On the time Lee arrived again in San Francisco, the native kung fu tradition was presided over by a Choy Li Fut kung fu grasp named Lau Bun, who in his youthful days was an enforcer for the Hop Sing Tong. Later, he settled into instructing kung fu and lion dancing throughout the neighborhood.

In the summertime of 1959, Lee had a heated incident at Lau Bun’s college — Hung Sing — and was promptly ejected. This immediately put Bruce at odds with Chinatown’s martial arts neighborhood.

Arguably the oldest kung fu college in America, Hung Sing continues to function in San Francisco’s Sundown District.

Photographs courtesy of Kem Lee Property/UC Berkeley and by Charles Russo

Kin Mon Bodily Tradition Studio

142 Waverly Place

Lau Bun was hardly the one kung fu grasp whom Lee had antagonized. One other was Wong Tim Yuen (TY Wong), who taught Sil Lum Fut Gar kung fu at his studio — “The Sturdy Citizen’s Membership” — on Waverly Place. Additionally a member of the Hop Sing Tong, Wong was typically tasked with quelling rowdy incidents across the neighborhood’s nightclubs. Reflecting the tensions between Bruce and Chinatown, Wong was recognized to have referred to Lee as “a dissident with unhealthy manners.”

Like Lee, although, Wong helped introduce kung fu to folks outdoors of the Chinese language neighborhood, one thing which had lengthy been frowned upon by a lot of his martial arts friends. He revealed a few of the first English language books about kung fu, taught non-Chinese language college students as early as 1960 and even took his college students on NBC’s “The Residence Present” to carry out.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

Dr. Solar Yat-sen Memorial Corridor

836/838 Stockton St.

After Lee was fired from his job as a busboy, Quan got here up with a fallback plan for employment: Bruce, who had been a dance champion again in Hong Kong, may train the Hong Kong cha-cha at events and dances across the bay. Lee started charging $1 per couple for courses held at places such because the Kuomintang Constructing, above, in Chinatown and the Leamington Lodge in Oakland.

Throughout intermissions, Lee would typically give kung fu demonstrations, the place he recurrently used the chance to speak trash about different practitioners, additional exacerbating his antagonistic relationship with the native kung fu neighborhood.

Picture courtesy of Kem Lee Property/UC Berkeley and by Charles Russo

Gee Yau Seah

Previous Chinatown Lane

“The Smooth Arts Academy.”

The third tier to the old fashioned Chinatown kung fu tradition was a tai chi social membership based within the late Thirties by pioneering tai chi grasp Choy Hok Peng. Later, the founder’s son — Choy Kam On — would garner an enormous following of San Francisco hippies for his Saturday Salon tai chi periods on the neighborhood YMCA in the course of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Regardless of long-held narratives that Bruce’s struggle with Wong Jack Man was orchestrated by the previous guard in Chinatown — Lau Bun or TY Wong — to stop Bruce from instructing non-Chinese language college students, the native martial artists concerned had been truly members of the Gee Yau Seah.

Picture through Charles Russo

The Jing Mo Athletic Affiliation

880 Pacific Ave.

Within the early Sixties, Wong Jack Man arrived from Hong Kong and shortly established himself throughout the Chinatown martial arts neighborhood. A younger phenom in Northern Shaolin kung fu, Wong impressed the native kung fu scenewhere Bruce had principally antagonized it.

In late summer time of 1964, Lee took to the stage of the Solar Sing Theater as a dance associate to Hong Kong film starlet Diana Chang (the “Mandarin Marilyn Monroe”) throughout a promotional tour of her newest movie. Lee had just lately dropped out of school in Washington to return to the Bay Space so he may collaborate extra intently with a bunch of progressively minded martial artists in Oakland. Tensions between Lee and the extra conventional masters of Chinatown persevered throughout the bay.

Picture courtesy of Kem Lee Property/UC Berkeley

After dancing the cha-cha on stage with Chang, Lee gave a kung fu demonstration throughout intermission to a hostile viewers who heckled him when a routine involving an viewers volunteer backfired. In response, Bruce signed off by saying that his Chinatown brothers had been welcome to return “check out” his kung fu at his new college in Oakland anytime, a remark which was broadly thought to be an open problem to the native martial arts neighborhood.

Within the coming weeks, Wong Jack Man traveled to Oakland to problem Bruce inside his college earlier than solely seven witnesses. The struggle, which posited two extremely dynamic 23-year-old practitioners wielding inverse types of kung fu, led to victory for Lee, albeit a disappointing one that might spark his martial evolution towards his personal type, often known as Jeet Kune Do.

In time, Wong’s college (typically merely known as 880 for the road tackle) can be a notable addition to the native martial arts tradition. But regardless of instructing to a variety of scholars for over 40 years in San Francisco, his struggle with Bruce Lee would sometimes eclipse the whole lot of his legacy. The struggle remains to be hotly debated in San Francisco — and around the globe — to at the present time.