Webinar: East Meets West – Chinatown Night Clubs 7/15/2020

Larry Ching, “the Chinese Frank Sinatra,” with fellow performers at the Forbidden City nightclub in the early 1940s (Courtesy DeepFocus Productions, Inc.).

Webinar: July 15, 2020. 1:15 – 1:30 Cocktail lounge: Big Band music and a Cavalcade of Stars! 1:30 Webinar Start Time.

Panelist: Cynthia Yee, started dancing at age 17 in the mid-60’s all-Asian floorshow at Andy Wong’s Chinese Skyroom

Panelist: Coby Yee, dancer, and owner of the Forbidden City

If you wish an invitation to this webinar, please contact Gail Chong, at gailchong1970@gmail.com

Session Abstract

This webinar explores a little known, but exciting topic, in Chinese-American history: Chinese-American nightclubs.  In particular, the presentation will focus on the nightclubs owned by a well-known herbalist, Fong Wan of Oakland, and how he eventually turned a bankrupt restaurant into a first-class nightclub.  Many of the performers (singers, dancers, magicians, acrobats, comedians, etc) were Chinese with headliner names; like, the “Chinese Frank Sinatra,” or the “Chinese Ginger Rogers.”  Many performers were 2nd generation Asians coming out of the Great Depression and who loved entertaining but were shut out from performing live on American stage or in the movies.  The Chinese nightclubs offered a venue for them to show their many talents and opened opportunities that they could not realize otherwise.  The clubs became extremely popular during the 1940s-early 1960s and were places to see and be seen by the Hollywood elite.

About the Speaker

Calvin Fong

Calvin was born in Oakland near Chinatown.  In the 1940s, his mother worked as a part-time, evening hostess at the Oakland nightclub.  She didn’t want to leave the young children (including me) at home,  fending for themselves; so, she brought them to the club.  The kids were told to sit way in the back or sit upstairs in the balcony—quietly. We watched the shows, drinking cherry cokes,  and were fascinated by the variety and talent of the performers.  We were especially mesmerized by the magicians and acrobats.  In-between shows, a few of the performers would occasionally “babysit” us and chat.  One of the magicians even showed us a few, simple magic tricks (that I have now completely forgotten).  In the early 1950s, our parents would sometimes take us to the Club Shanghai in San Francisco Chinatown on Friday nights.  My father would be conducting business and my mother would chat with the employees/friends in the back room or kitchen.  The only time the kids were allowed in (i.e., forced into) the kitchen was when the “exotic” dancers came on the stage….  We met many of the performers but were too young to really appreciate most of them.

Panelist: Cynthia Yee

Cynthia Yee,
Miss Chinatown 1967

In the mid-1960s, Dorothy Toy was producing an all-Asian floorshow at Andy Wong’s Chinese Skyroom, one of the most popular nightclubs in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Dorothy was in need of a substitute dancer and called Cynthia, who was only seventeen at the time. With her parents’ permission, Cynthia went on stage and began her professional career. She recalled later, “In the beginning of course everybody always said, ‘Why do you let your daughter be in show business?’ and Dorothy told my mom that she would take care of me, and she did. Because I was in Dorothy Toy’s show and my mother knew Dorothy as a personal friend, it was fine.” In 1967, Cynthia won the prestigious Miss Chinatown crown, performing a dance choreographed by Dorothy Toy.

Cynthia stayed in touch with many of the nightclub dancers through the years and she continued to dance for her own health and enjoyment. In the 1990s, she was called upon to help support fundraising for the Chinese Hospital in San Francisco. She called her old friends from the nightclubs and founded the Grant Avenue Follies, a troupe that revives the golden age of Chinese nightclubs and supports charitable organizations throughout the city. In 2005, because of the community work done by the Grant Avenue Follies, Cynthia received the Jefferson Award, a prestigious national recognition system honoring community and public service in America. She also performs in a Chinese-themed magic act with the illusionist Tamaka and is the owner of San Francisco Chinatown Ghost tours, a historical walking tour through the alleyways of Chinatown. 

Panelist: Coby Yee

Coby Yee

Known as “China’s Most Daring Dancing Doll”, Coby Yee began dancing in the 1940’s and soon became a mainstay in Asian nightclubs, particularly Charlie Low’s Forbidden City in San Francisco. She performed all over the country through the 1950’s and 1960’s, eventually buying Forbidden City in 1962 and running it until it closed in 1970. Now 94 years old, she was just awarded the 2020 Living Legend Award ,

Writing Your Family History Series


The California Genealogical Society will present an encore of our popular series Writing Your Family History online via Zoom. By the end of the course, you will be ready to start writing, or will be already writing, a family history with confidence and style!

Eight Sessions on Tuesday Evenings (Fee)

August 4 & 11 (two parts), August 18, August 25, September 1, September 8, September 15, September 22

7 pm – 8:30 pm PDT (some sessions may end early depending on content)

Who Should Take This Course?

This course series is for genealogists and family historians who are ready to transform their research into a quality family history.

The course will be lead by a team of dedicated volunteers – Matthew B. Berry,CG, Jennifer Dix, Lois Elling, Lisa Gorrell,CG, and Stewart Traiman – who have different and complementary skills.

The sessions will take place via Zoom. If you join, please sign in early to make sure you are able to see the program. We will send you instructions the night before, and a reminder shortly before the event, which will give you access. All times are Pacific Daylight Time.


4 Aug & 11 Aug 2020

Writing Stories

presented by Lisa Gorrell, CG

This two-part online class will cover defining your writing project and how to create time to write and avoid distractions. Also discussed will be what makes a compelling story, and adding historical and social context to your story. This online course will include in-class discussions and writing prompts, as well as a between-class writing exercise. Enrollment includes both sessions of this class.


18 Aug 2020

Writing and Editing with Style

presented by Jennifer Dix

This class will discuss style: why writers need style sheets, and what style decisions need to be made. Also discussed will be how to edit your writing: who should do it, when to do it, and what to look for. ________________________________________________________________________________

25 Aug 2020

Genealogical Numbering Systems

presented by Matt Berry, CG

This class will address the preferred approaches for organizing genealogical information in written form. Topics will include Register and NGSQ formats, the Sosa-Stradonitz (or Ahnentafel) System, and Multi-Surname approaches. ________________________________________________________________________________

1 Sep 2020

Citation: Easier Than You Think

presented by Stewart Traiman

This class will be based on Tom Jones’ Mastering Genealogical Documentation. We’ll break down all 17 chapters to make them more easily understandable, and provide exercises for each. Attendees will leave with much more confidence in how to craft their own citations for any source.


8 Sep 2020

Making Your Book Look Good I: Type & Graphics

presented by Lois Elling

This class will cover how to add visual interest to your narratives and present a professional-looking book. Topics will include: typefaces, graphic elements, and photographs. Parts I and II of this course are designed to be taken together, but may be taken separately if desired. ________________________________________________________________________________

15 Sep 2020

Making Your Book Look Good II: Page Layout and Software

presented by Lois Elling

This class will continue to cover how to add visual interest to your narratives and present a professional-looking book. Topics will include: design basics, construction considerations, software, and going to print.


22 Sep 2020

Creating an Effective Index to your Family History Book

presented by Matt Berry, CG

This class will teach how to create an effective index for your family history book. Most people don’t read genealogies from cover to cover, the first thing a potential reader wants to know is whether their family is covered in the book, so they turn to the index first. Help your readers out by creating a useful index to your book.



 Pre-registration is required. Class size is limited so register early to confirm your spot.

 CGS members enjoy reduced admission, $10.00* per session.

 Non-member admission fee is $30.00* per session

You can purchase a $45 one-year CGS Basic membership when you check out. To sign up for other membership options go to our web page: CGS Membership application


Credit card payments will be processed by Eventbrite.

Preserving Family Photos, Stories and Documents

San Mateo County Genealogical Society

Saturday, Nov. 21 , 2020 – Zoom 10:30 am-12:00 pm. Free.

Sign up here to get on mail list to register

The link to each Zoom meeting, along with the handout, will be sent to everyone on the mailing list several days prior to the session.

Presenter: Carolyn Williams

This presentation provides organizational tips and procedures for capturing the story behind a photo or document, scanning the image, and then preserving both the physical and digital photos and documents for the next generation.

Carolyn Williams is a family genealogist and recent SMCGS board member. She holds a certificate from the Boston University Genealogical Research program and is a former Silicon Valley technology marketing professional.

The Mystery Aussie

San Mateo County Genealogical Society

Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020 – Zoom 10:30 am-12:00 pm. Free.

Sign up here to get on mail list to register

The link to each Zoom meeting, along with the handout, will be sent to everyone on the mailing list several days prior to the session.
Presenter: Pam Wong

At a time when most Chinese villagers never strayed far from their birthplaces, Jan See Chin joined other sojourners seeking a way to make a living overseas.  In 1884, at barely fifteen years old, he emigrated from Guangdong, China, to Queensland, Australia, by sea, at the time of British colonialism. Battling his way in a hostile white man’s society, he received meagre earnings working at odd jobs while he struggled to adapt to local culture.  He saved enough to buy a small farm, and then married a young half-Chinese, half-British woman named Maud Young. Together they raised thirteen children.  

Pamela Wong writes about Chinese immigrant experiences against the backdrop of historical events.  Passionate about preserving oral stories about experiences of the elders, a UCB alumna, Pam writes about future generations in mind to help them understand that they stand on the shoulders of their predecessors.

FREE Chinese Genealogy Online Consultation

Family History Center


Before You Schedule an Appointment

Our priority with Online Consultations is to provide support for your genealogy research. We can help with evidence analysis, translation of key words, or to identify a good next step. The goal is to empower you in your research journey. Please note the following details:

  • These are free, 20-minute online research consultations.
  • Please have your ancestor’s information and any digital copies of relevant documents available for reference at your consultation.
  • Please provide as much information as possible about the research problem on the bookings form. This will help the research specialist be prepared to give you the best suggestions possible.
  • There are a limited number of consultations available. Please allow as many people as possible to receive help by not booking more than 1 consultation in any given week.
  • Some research problems, like providing document extractions, may be better met using our online community pages.

Prepare for the Consultation

Booking Confirmation Email


After you make a booking, you will receive a confirmation email. The email will contain a link to an online meeting on Microsoft Teams. Microsoft Teams is an application you can download for the desktop of your computer. You can also access the online version of Microsoft Teams using either Google Chrome or Edge browsers.

  • At the time of your appointment, open the Join Teams Meeting link to the online meeting provided in your confirmation email.
  • If you have Microsoft Teams, the meeting will start immediately.
  • If not, your internet browser will open to a landing page for Microsoft Teams. You will be given the option to download the app or join the meeting on the web. Click Join on the web instead.
  • A new meeting will open. You do not need to enable the video camera, but please be sure the microphone option is turned on. If your device does not have a microphone built in, click Phone audio to listen through your phone.
    • You may see a pop-up window asking you to allow Microsoft Teams to access your microphone and camera. Click allow.
  • You will be admitted into the meeting. If you enter before the research specialist who has been assigned to help you, wait patiently and they will start the meeting shortly.

Thank you Marisa Louie for sharing this resource!

Awesome Theater Hour: Fighting History of San Francisco Chinatown

8PM, Thursday, July 9, https://awesometheatre.org

Ongoing sessions every 2nd and 4th Thursdays at 8PM

EPISODE 7- THE FIGHTING HISTORY OF SF CHINATOWN: Stunning Stories of Audacious Resilience.

Our next episode takes one of the most popular and notorious tours in San Francisco and brings it into your home. “The Fighting History of San Francisco’s Chinatown- Stunning Stories of Audacious Resilience” starring local writer and lecturer, Marc Pomerleau is a fascinating virtual tour of Chinatown like you’ve never seen. Based on his award-winning Airbnb experience, The Fighting History of SF Chinatown takes you back to the birth of the first and largest Chinatown in the United States and tours you through stories of brutality, beauty, resilience, and sheer audacity and creativity that have enabled the Chinese to survive and thrive against the odds. From the Tong Wars of the 1800s, The Chinese Exclusion Act and relentless racism, to Bruce Lee’s battles in the bay area, and the gang wars and Triad presence of modern-day, this tour promises to transform the way you see San Francisco and the Chinese immigrant experience forever.

 The Awesome Theatre Hour

Hosted by Colin Johnson
Featuring “The Fighting History of SF Chinatown: Stunning Stories of Audacious Resilience” Written and performed by Marc Pomerleau
Thursday, July 9, 8 PM PST
Facebook Live and YouTube


  • Japanese American Museum of San Jose / Chinese Historical & Cultural Project
  • Saturday, July 25, 2020
  • 1:00 PM  2:00 PM

To watch the stream, please “like” and bookmark the page to watch the stream: https://www.facebook.com/JAMsjOfficial

The hour long segment with questions and answers focuses on the last Chinatown in San Jose, Heinlenville.

Before the Japanese. Before the Filipinos. Before any other Asian community in San Jose, there were the Chinese. Did you know that five Chinatowns existed in San Jose? And did you know that the fifth Chinatown, Heinlenville, provided the nurturing environment that gave birth to San Jose Japantown? 

Join us in an ongoing series to discover the historic and cultural treasures of the San Jose Japantown community through the Hidden Histories of San Jose Japantown Augmented Reality Art Project.

In episode 2, Curt Fukuda, documentarian for the project, explores the little known history of Japantown’s Chinese American roots. Historian Connie Young Yu and Brenda Hee Wong of the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project will discuss “Heinlenville” Chinatown, the Ng Shing Gung Temple, and the interconnected histories of Chinese and Japanese in San Jose.

Beyond the Military Record: A Case Study


Sat, Dec 5, 2020 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM PST

Southern California Genealogical Society and Family Research Library

As with many veterans, George Randall downplayed his military service. His military record gave rank, awards, dates and places of service. But, what was his service experience really like? The journey uses WWII history, and many research sources to develop the experience of his military service.

Cousin Baiting and Cousin Stalking


Sat, Aug 1, 2020 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM PDT

We will discuss the many ways to reach out to distant living cousins to help you expand your pedigree chart forward in time. You may find family treasures, photos, DNA test takers and information that will break down a brick wall. We will explore online trees, lineage societies, online cemetery indexes, obituaries in newspapers, living people finder websites and social media.

Tribute to Chinese Railroad Workers

Chinese Historical Society of America’s Tribute to the Chinese Railroad

On July 1st, 1862, the Pacific Railway Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, providing federal support for the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Almost seven years later, the transcontinental railroad was completed, in large part due to the contributions of Chinese railroad workers. Long overlooked by this country, the U.S. Labor department finally recognized the work and sacrifice of the Chinese railroad workers who help build the Transcontinental Railroad in 2014 by adding these workers into the Labor department’s Hall of Honor. Watch CHSA’s tribute to Chinese workers today to honor their legacy.

“I’m Not Who You Think I Am: An Asian American Woman’s Political Journey”

Thursday, July 9, 202012:00pm to 12:45pmOnline Via Zoom

Maeley Tom released her memoir entitled “I’m Not Who You Think I Am.”  Her story describes her journey to becoming the first woman and first ethnic minority to serve at the highest level of California Legislature. Her book also serves as political history in discovering how she went from political neophyte to seasoned insider to be the first to reach the top of an all-male, nearly all-white power elite in the California capitol. In “I’m Not Who You Think I Am,” we learn how Maeley helped create and advance the Asian American presence in California politics, along with a core group of close friends and colleagues.  

The book is a glimpse into how Maeley dedicated herself to giving voice to an under-represented community, led by example, and how her actions and accomplishments became inseparable from the rise of the Asian American political community. She has seen great success, as well as setbacks, hardship, and scandal. Her experience includes enduring prejudice and discrimination, and her story includes how her perseverance and integrity helped her and the Asian community emerge as a strong and influential community.  Her journey is documented in her memoir of a life well-led, with hard-fought gains and deeply-felt sacrifices; a story of painful struggles for professional recognition, self-knowledge, and personal fulfillment; a story of the rewarding, but often harsh, intersection of the personal and the political.