San Francisco, Chinatown 1912

Seeing America’s Greatest Chinatown: San Francisco (Part I)
R: “Captain” H.J. Lewis. Contributers and Production unknown. USA 1912

Seeing America’s Greatest Chinatown: San Francisco (Part II)

Captain Lewis was a licensed Chinatown guide; these films represent what was salvaged from a multi-reel film. (Internet Archive)

Prints: Prelinger Archives, San Francisco

“The way Chinatown guide H.J. Lewis actively used film around 1912 illustrates the relation between tourist guides and motion pictures as well as the possibilities the new medium opened. ‘Captain’ Lewis began conducting guided tours through San Francisco’s Chinatown in the late 1880s. The ‘San Francisco Call’ devoted a small article to him and ‘his experience taking parties through (the) local orient.’ According to the article, Lewis was a licensed guide who spoke Chinese fluently and had contacts with many people in Chinatown. (…) Apart from his on-site tours, Lewis made use from the film medium and created a new way to experience Chinatown on the silver screen. His films mark an early example of the connection between film and tourism. To create his cinematic version of a trip to Chinatown, Lewis shot several scenes in San Francisco that corresponded roughly to the stations of his tours – that is, street scenes, restaurants, tenements, Joss houses,  bazaars, and stores. The collection of scenes was titled Seeing America’s Greatest Chinatown: San Francisco and formed the basis for his ‘Oriental travelogue’, a show that included the screening along with introductory remarks and anecdotes by Lewis.”
Björn A. Schmidt: Visualizing Orientalness: Chinese Immigration and Race in U.S. Motion Pictures, 1910s-1930s. Böhlau Verlag Köln / Weimar 2017, p. 159/160


Photo: Arnold Genthe/Library of Congress Judy Yung

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