A History of Chinese Americans in California:
Ah Louis Store
The Ah Louis Store is a two-story brick rectangular building in the community of San Luis Obispo. The facade is painted white, and has two windows and a door on both the first and second floors. All of the windows have iron shutters except for the windows on the second floor. The windows and door on the first floor are larger than those on the second floor. The balcony is of ornate ironwork. There are Italianate details in the pronounced brackets near the roof and the projecting cornices over the windows and door on the second floor.
The building stands on the corner of a commercial street near Mission San Luis Obispo, in central San Luis Obispo. The store was originally surrounded by the Chinese American community.
The first Chinese American store in San Luis Obispo County, the Ah Louis Store was founded in 1874 by On Wong, known popularly as "Ah Louis." He was a labor contractor who also sold dry goods, tea, sugar, rice, and Chinese goods.
Ah Louis was born in Canton, China, and came to the United States as a young man. He worked in Corvallis, Oregon, and various other places, and finally settled in San Luis Obispo in 1870. He began labor contracting in 1873 by providing workers to build a railroad from Avila to Port Harford, now Port San Luis. He brought 160 Chinese Americans from San Francisco by schooner to help construct the Pacific Coast Railroad. By 1877, Ah Louis was bidding for labor contracts for road building. He was awarded labor contracts for the Paso Robles to Cambria county road, and the tough first and second stage roads over Cuesta Grade.
In 1882, Ah Louis began reclaiming acres of land for cultivation. With a contract for $1,100, he undertook to drain a great portion of the Laguna area. In 1884, he contracted for the Chinese American labor that built the eight original railroad tunnels through the Cuesta for the Southern Pacific Railroad. The job required about 2,000 laborers, and took 10 years.
In 1885, Ah Louis had Alfred Walker build a new brick store on the corner of Palm and Chorro streets. This store served as a bank, supply center, and employment office. A section of the living quarters above the shop was set aside as a temple where Ah Louis practiced the Taoist faith. Another temple was later built for the Chinese American community a half-block from the store.
In May 1889, Ah Louis married Ying Gon in San Francisco. They raised a family of eight children, one of whom, Howard Louis, still runs the Ah Louis Store.
Ah Louis set up one of the first kilns in the area for making bricks, and had his own brickyard some where between Bishop's Peak and San Luis Mountain. His bricks were used not only for his own store, but for the roundhouse, the old courthouse, and the east wing of the San Luis Obispo Mission.
In later years, he was to pioneer in the flower and vegetable seed industry. He died December 16, 1936. The Ah Louis Store is significant not only as a surviving building from the historic Chinese American community in San Luis Obispo but also through its identification with the Chinese American pioneer Ah Louis, or On Wong.
The property is currently listed as a California State Historical Landmark.
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