Chan House to showcase Folsom’s Chinese heritage
Visitors to the newly redeveloped Historic Sutter Street notice one building that seems overlooked. The small, yellow building near the Gold Line light rail station at 719 Sutter St. looks much as it did years ago.
It is not forgotten and will soon become another nugget in the treasure that is Folsom’s Historic District. It is the future home of the Howard Sr. and Mabel Chan Museum.
The Chan House Restoration and Chinese Museum Project is a coordinated effort between the Friends of Chan House, the Heritage Preservation League and the Folsom Historical Society.
At one time Folsom’s Chinese community rivaled that of San Francisco. During the 1880s an estimated 2,500-3,500 Chinese lived and worked in the area between Leidesdorff Street and the American River. A fire in 1908 destroyed much of Chinatown and many of the Chinese left Folsom.
Not much of the history or contributions of the Chinese remains evident today. The realization of a museum dedicated to Chinese history in Folsom is due to years of persistent efforts by June Chan, descendant of Oak Chan Chin, who served as the Chinese community’s honorary mayor, and her family.
Oak Chan, as he was known in America, left China at age 16, arriving in Folsom in 1852 to seek his fortune. He became a respected businessman and a humanitarian. He served as liaison between the Chinese and non-Chinese communities. Oak Chan raised four children and died in 1924.
His son, Howard Chan Sr. took over Oak Chan’s meat selling business. With his wife Mabel Howard Chan Sr. opened a market on Sutter Street in 1931. It closed in 1955.
In 1989 the Oak Chan Elementary School in Folsom was dedicated to the memory of Oak Chan. Grandson Howard Chan Jr. taught fourth grade in the school.
The Chan House on Sutter Street was the home of Howard Chan Sr. and Mabel Chan. They began renting it in the 1920s, but were not allowed to purchase it until 1943 when the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed. Their children, Howard Chan Jr. and June Chan, grew up there.
June and Howard Chan Jr. gave the Folsom Historical Society an option to purchase the building for the purpose of renovating it into a Chinese history museum in July 2010. The Chan House is identified in the city of Folsom Cultural Resource inventory.
The Folsom Historical Society has more than 50 boxes of Chinese artifacts recovered in 1999 during excavation below Folsom Lake Crossing.
Plans have been drawn to convert the building and add a moon gate and garden. The story of the perseverance and hard work of the Chinese in California in the face of prejudice and adversity will be told, and their contributions as miners, builders of railroads, levees, and stone walls, as business men and women, farmers, fishermen and more will be recognized.
The Chan House Project has received in-kind and financial contributions from local and out-of-area supporters toward its goal of $300,000 for the first phase but more is needed. When it is complete, the project will provide insight into California’s Chinese history for everyone from children to researchers. It will join the Folsom History Museum and Pioneer Village in a trio of historical museums in the Folsom Historic District.
For more information visit friendsofchanhouse.org, call (916) 985-2707 or contact Friends of Chan House, c/o Folsom Historical Society, 823 Sutter St., Folsom 95630.