Friday, August 08, 2008

Wing Lee, Ghost Town, Knott's Berry Farm

With China on everyone’s mind, today is a good time to visit Hop Wing Lee’s Chinese Laundry on Main Street in Knott’s Berry Farm’s Ghost Town. The building and its interior diorama were completed in 1941. Like most of the wooden figures along Main Street, Wing Lee was carved by folk artist H. S. "Andy" Anderson. The photo at the bottom of today's post shows (left to right) Walter Knott, early Knott's artist Paul Swartz, Wing Lee and Andy Anderson. (This is not the same Anderson who married Marion Knott and ran Knott's Steak House.) I’ve also posted a short video clip of Wing Lee on my Flickr account, so you can hear him singing while he works.

The “Ghost Town History & Reference,” a circa 1960s guide for employees, (nominally written by Walter Knott,) says the following about the Chinese Laundry:

"In the early days of California mining, thousands of Chinese came to California seeking gold just as people came from all other countries. However, the Chinese were industrious and willing to work the old placer workings over after the whites had gone through them first. Then the Mexicans gleaned out some more, and then the Chinese really gave them a going-over.

"As the gold mining played out, these Chinese settled in all of our California towns and ran restaurants, laundries, and started vegetable gardens. Even when I was a boy down on the other side of the tracks, in every Western town there was a row of Chinese shacks very much like our Chinese laundry. I have often watched Chinamen ironing shirts and fine clothes take a drink with a bucket and dipper close by, fill his mouth with water, and spurt it on the clothes to sprinkle them. This may seem highly unsanitary today, but 50 or 60 years ago it was common practice…"
Some early Orange County communities, including Anaheim, Santa Ana, and Orange, had "China Towns" of their own. I’ll write about them another time. 


outsidetheberm said...

Good photos of Paul Swartz are hard to come by. Do you have any info on another early Knott artist by the name of 'Julian'? We have very little info here - but some nice old artwork he created. Just wondering what you may have come across.

walterworld said...

Neat stuff as always---

Is the laundry still in Ghost Town?

Matterhorn1959 said...

The bottom photo is great. Thanks for sharing.

Chris Jepsen said...

Yes, the laundry is still standing. (Thank goodness!)

The "Julian" name rings a bell. We may have some sketches at the Archives. I will need to rummage around a bit when I get the chance.

On a related note, Knott's really missed an opportunity when they recently converted their Shooting Gallery into a Panda Express. They could have turned that area into Ghost Town's "China Town," making it another tribute to a very real part of the Old West. Instead, the exterior looks like a row of brand new (unweathered) Western falsefronts (with no Chinese theming) and the interior looks like any other fast food restaurant.