Dragon Gate (San Francisco)

The Dragon Gate ("Chinatown Gate" on some maps) is a south-facing gate at the intersection of Bush Street and Grant Avenue, marking a southern entrance to San Francisco's Chinatown, in the U.S. state of California. Built in 1969 as a gift from the Republic of China (Taiwan) in the style of a traditional Chinese pailou,[1] it became one of the most photographed locations in Chinatown, along with the older Sing Fat and Sing Chong buildings (at Grant and California).

Dragon Gate
1 chinatown san francisco arch gateway.JPG
The gate in 2010
Dragon Gate (San Francisco) is located in San Francisco
Dragon Gate (San Francisco)
Location in San Francisco
Dragon Gate (San Francisco) is located in San Francisco Bay Area
Dragon Gate (San Francisco)
Dragon Gate (San Francisco) (San Francisco Bay Area)
Coordinates37°47′27″N 122°24′20″W / 37.7907°N 122.4056°W / 37.7907; -122.4056Coordinates: 37°47′27″N 122°24′20″W / 37.7907°N 122.4056°W / 37.7907; -122.4056
LocationStraddling Grant just north of Bush, San Francisco
DesignerClayton Lee, Melvin Lee, and Joseph Yee
Beginning dateAugust 1968
Completion dateMay 1970
Opening dateOctober 18, 1970; 51 years ago (1970-10-18)


Temporary gates in San FranciscoEdit

The Chinese pavilion at the Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco featured a temporary paifang in 1915.[2] A temporary "Imperial Dragon Gate" was erected across Grant at Clay for the 1941 Rice Bowl Party, a celebration and parade to raise funds for war relief in China.[3][4] Rice Bowl fundraisers had previously been held in 1938[5][6][7] and 1940.[8] Several temporary "victory arches" were erected in March 1943 to welcome Soong Mei-ling to Chinatown.[9][10]


In 1953, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce sponsored a bilingual essay contest on how to improve Chinatown business, in the wake of an U.S. embargo on mainland China imports after the People's Republic of China entered the Korean conflict. The winner of the English division, Charles L. Leong, suggested in his essay, among many things, the erection of an authentic archway to Chinatown at Bush and Grant.[11] A later report from 1963 proposing general plans for the downtown area noted that "north of Bush Street, Grant Avenue, to the casual observer and the visitor, is Chinatown", establishing the site's suitability.[12]

In 1956, the Chinatown Improvement Committee, appointed by Mayor George Christopher, made the archway its top priority;[11]: 148–151  the proposal initially included two gates: one at Grant and Bush for Chinatown, and another at Pacific and Kearny for the Barbary Coast red-light district.[13] Two design drawings were shown in December 1956.[14] An early effort to build a gate which started in 1958[15] was suspended in 1961 after funds and materials ran short,[16] then abandoned in 1962.[17] The budget for both gateways (Chinatown and Barbary Coast) was initially $50,000 each, but the San Francisco Arts Commission killed the Barbary Coast proposal and reduced the budget to $35,000 in 1961.[13][18] The gate was redesigned in 1963 by Lun Chan, Worley Wong, Morton Rader, and Piero Patri as part of a more ambitious plan to link Chinatown and North Beach via a pedestrian mall and bridge.[15]

Design contestEdit

 "This Gateway appears to favor the pedestrian ... it has an intriguing quality of openness so that one sees the colorful flow of pedestrians and the shops beyond."

 — Jury's comments, quoted in October 1967 Architecture/West article[19]

In 1967 Mayor John F. Shelley, who had succeeded Christopher, decided to spur interest by sponsoring a design competition with a budget of $70,000,[13] open to architects of Chinese descent.[20] The contest was won[21] by a team of three Chinese-Americans, architect Clayton Lee of San Mateo, with landscape architects Melvin H. Lee and Joseph Yee,[13][22] who were inspired by Chinese village architecture of ceremonial gates.[23][24]

There were more than twenty entrants in the contest, judged by a jury of five architects:[21] Thomas D. Church, Worley Wong, Charles Griffith, and Morton Rader, with Merrill Jew serving as a professional advisor. Second place went to a team of Roger Lee, Daryl Roberson, and Eugene Lew; third to George Meu.[19]

Construction and dedicationEdit

The official groundbreaking ceremony was held in October 1967, but construction did not begin until August 1968.[22] "Extensive modifications" were required to existing utilities.[20] Materials for the gateway, namely 120 artisanal ochre tiles, roofing, and the guardian lions, were fabricated and donated by the Republic of China (Taiwan) in 1969.[11]: 252  [20][25][26] The project was funded by San Francisco at a cost exceeding $75,000, more than double the original $35,000 budget;[22] the Department of Public Works later reported the construction contract, let to Moreau Construction, was completed at a cost of US$90,889.15 (equivalent to $641,000 in 2020).[20] The ceramic tiles donated by Taiwan were valued at $45,000.[27]

Construction was delayed by bad weather and the relocation of underground utilities. Although the gateway was largely completed by April 1969,[22] it was not dedicated until October 18, 1970, marked by a 12-mile long (0.80 km) parade and ceremony attended by a crowd of 3,000, including approximately 50 protesters who denounced the government of Taiwan and the funding of "Moon Gates for Tourists" rather than housing.[13][27] Mayor Joseph Alioto and Vice-President Yen Chia-kan of the Republic of China (Taiwan) attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony,[11]: 151–152  [23] along with former mayors Robinson and Shelley.[27] It is the first permanent ceremonial gate to be installed in the United States.[2]

Restoration and current statusEdit

The gateway was restored in 1995; work included replacement of roof tiles, upgrading lights, repairing broken steps, installing hand rails, and cleaning and painting.[28]

In 2005, a private effort was proposed to construct a second gate for the northern entrance to Chinatown, at Broadway and Grant. Wilma Pang is credited for the idea of a second gate, inspired by temporary gateways across Commercial for the annual Mid-Autumn Festival starting in 2001.[29]


Male lion (west portal)
Female lion (east portal)
Chinese guardian lions at Dragon Gate

The Dragon Gate, with its inscription by Sun Yat-sen, has been described as the Republic of China (Taiwan) government's "symbolic claim to Chinatown", before the People's Republic of China gained more influence in Chinatown following Nixon's 1972 visit to China and further normalization of US-China relations.[1]

Like most Chinese ceremonial gates, the Dragon Gate has three portals facing south. The two smaller west and east (pedestrian) portals flank the larger central (automotive) portal, and the structure is supported on stone columns rising from the sidewalks on either side of Grant. The stone columns adhere to standards for Chinese gateways;[23][24] in contrast, most 'Chinese' gateways constructed in the United States use wooden support columns.[30] Each portal is covered with green tiles, leading north along Grant Avenue into Chinatown.

Three shallow steps lead up to each pedestrian portal. Each pedestrian portal features a stone Chinese guardian lion on the side away from the street. By tradition, the lion pair consists of one male and one female. The male lion, at the west portal, stands with his right fore paw atop a pearl or stone, symbolically guarding the structure or empire. The female lion, at the east portal, stands with her left fore paw atop a juvenile lion, symbolically guarding the occupants within.[23] There are also fish and dragons atop the gate; the fish symbolize prosperity, while the dragons symbolize power and fertility. Between the dragons is a ball, symbolizing the earth.[31] The lions were cast and carved in Taiwan.[20]

West portal
Center portal
East portal
Chinese signs, to be read right to left, above the three portals at Dragon Gate

There are four Chinese characters above each portal. Each sign is read from right to left. The central portal sign reads Chinese: 天下為公; pinyin: tiānxià wèi gōng; lit. 'All under heaven is for the good of the people' (a motto attributed to Dr. Sun Yat-sen);[23] the east portal sign reads 忠孝仁愛; zhōngxiào rén'ài; 'respect (filial piety); love'; and the west reads 信義和平; xìnyì hépíng; 'trust (confidence); peace'.[32]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Lei, D. (2016). Operatic China: Staging Chinese Identity Across the Pacific. Springer. ISBN 978-1-137-06163-8.
  2. ^ a b Allen-Kim, Erica (Spring 2013). "The Political Economy of Chinatown Gates". Pidgin. No. 15. Princeton University School of Architecture. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  3. ^ "Crowd of people gathered for the Rice Bowl Party in Chinatown". San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library. May 3, 1941. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  4. ^ "Lion, Dragon To Aid China". Sausalito News. April 27, 1941. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  5. ^ "'Rice For Bowls Of China' Theme Of Carnival In Local Chinatown Friday For Benefit Of Civilian Refugees". The New World-Sun Daily. June 17, 1938. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  6. ^ Abe, Victor (June 19, 1938). "Chinese 'Rice Bowl' fete packs streets; Japanese tradespeople close early". The New World-Sun Daily. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  7. ^ "Rice Bowl Party Draws Throng". San Pedro News-Pilot. June 20, 1938. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  8. ^ "Helps Fill China's Rice Bowl". The Healdsburg Tribune and Enterprise. February 19, 1940. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  9. ^ "Greet Mme Kai-Shek". Madera Tribune. March 25, 1943. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  10. ^ "Madame Chiang Kai-Shek touring Chinatown". San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library. March 25, 1943. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  11. ^ a b c d Wu, Ellen D (2015). "Deghettoizing Chinatown: race and space in postwar America". In Bay, Mia; Fabian, Ann (eds.). Race and retail: consumption across the color line. Rutgers University Press. pp. 141–162. ISBN 978-0-8135-7172-0.
  12. ^ Ciampi, Mario (September 1963). Downtown San Francisco: General plan proposals (Report). San Francisco Department of City Planning. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  13. ^ a b c d e Van Niekerken, Bill (October 13, 2020). "Chronicle Vault: How S.F.'s Dragon Gate came to stand at Grant Avenue and Bush Street". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  14. ^ "Rev. T. T. Taam holding up preliminary drawings of Chinese archways". San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library. December 7, 1956. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  15. ^ a b "A New Gateway to Chinatown". San Francisco Examiner. May 22, 1963. p. 4.
  16. ^ "Chinatown Waits: Gateway Arch Delayed Again". San Francisco Examiner, Sunday. May 21, 1961. p. 35.
  17. ^ "Chinatown Gate 'Closed'". San Francisco Examiner. April 20, 1962. p. 5.
  18. ^ "Chinatown Wins an Arch, Barbary Coast Rejected". San Francisco Chronicle. 1961.
  19. ^ a b "Gateway to Chinatown—an award-winning design". Architecture/West. October 1967. p. 8. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  20. ^ a b c d e "Gateway to Chinatown". Annual Report (Report). Department of Public Works, City and County of San Francisco. June 30, 1969. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  21. ^ a b "Chinatown Gateway Selected: Designed by Architect Lee". San Francisco Examiner, Sunday. March 26, 1967. p. 26.
  22. ^ a b c d "A Literal Gateway to Chinatown: Chinatown Gate Due in June". San Francisco Examiner. April 2, 1969. p. 20.
  23. ^ a b c d e Casey, Cindy (11 May 2012). "Chinatown – Gateway Arch". Public Art and Architecture from Around the World. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  24. ^ a b Bevk, Alex (24 July 2017). "Chinatown's Grant Avenue: A look back at one of San Francisco's oldest streets". Curbed San Francisco. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  25. ^ Brinklow, Adam (28 July 2017). "Mapping 16 Chinatown landmarks and their history: #16 Dragon Gate". Curbed San Francisco. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  26. ^ "Chinatown, San Francisco, California". hiddenSF. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  27. ^ a b c McKillips, Drew (October 19, 1970). "Opening a Gate To Chinatown". San Francisco Chronicle.
  28. ^ Annual Report (Report). Department of Public Works, City and County of San Francisco. June 30, 1995. pp. 55, 66. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  29. ^ Goodyear, Charlie (May 27, 2005). "Mate sought for ornamental gate on Grant". San Francisco Chronicle.
  30. ^ "Shopping, dining and culture in San Francisco's Chinatown". San Francisco Travel. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  31. ^ Fong-Torres, Shirley (1991). San Francisco Chinatown: a walking tour. China Books & Periodicals, Inc. p. 47. ISBN 9780835124362. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  32. ^ "San Francisco sights: Chinatown Gate". Fodor's. Retrieved 10 March 2018.

External linksEdit