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Weaverville Chinese family
Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California



Early Contacts

Historic Sites
Selected References


A History of Chinese Americans in California:

Chinese American Telephone Exchange
San Francisco

The Chinese American Telephone Exchange Building is located in San Francisco's historic Chinese American community, among tall buildings of brick and concrete. Its distinctive Chinese style is echoed in decorative details on the buildings around it.

This two-story wooden building, with a square ground floor plan, has three curved tile roofs. Its facade has a central glass doorway, protected overhead by an extension of the roof, which is supported by four pillars. The curved roofs end in curling dragon shapes. The roofs decrease in size from bottom to top. The predominant colors are red and gold, with decorative woodwork and railings. A sign, "Bank of Canton" in English, hangs above the doorway, while plaques with Chinese writing hang on either side of the door.

In 1891, the first public telephone pay station was installed in San Francisco's Chinese American community in the offices of the Occidental Newspaper. In 1894, a small switchboard was set up in a building on the northeast corner of Washington and DuPont (now Grant) streets to serve subscribers to the telephone system.

Telephone operators knew each subscriber by name, so telephone numbers were not necessary. They also knew the addresses and occupations of subscribers, to distinguish between two subscribers of the same name. In addition, they had to know several Chinese dialects as well as English. In 1898, an elaborate new exchange with fine furnishings was established on the southwest corner of Washington and DuPont streets, with Kum Shu Loo as manager. This building was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.

In 1909, the present building was constructed under the direction of the manager, Kum Shu Loo. When he died in 1926, his son, Kern Loo, took over and kept that job until he died in 1947. At the height of its operations, the telephone exchange had 2,477 subscribers.

In 1949, the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company switched to the dial system, so the telephone exchange went out of business and the building was sold. The Bank of Canton currently occupies the Telephone Exchange building.

Chinese American Telephone Exchange
Chinese American Telephone Exchange, San Francisco

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