We took a trip to the Delta and on the way, we passed the little town of Locke, a town rich in the heritage of the early 20th century Chinese settlers who moved there to work on the farms. In 1913, the Chinatown of nearby Walnut Grove was destroyed and burned after an accidental fire, thus causing the migration of Chinese into the neighboring areas.
The land was leased from George Locke, as California law at the time forbade the selling of farmland to Asian immigrants. Many Chinese immigrants were facing massive discrimination in the major cities. It is a town built completely “by the Chinese for the Chinese” and can be considered a distinct rural Chinatown enclave. A Hong Kong developer bought the town in 1977 from the Locke heirs, and sold it in 2002 to the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency. In 2004, the agency finally allowed the sale of land to those who had been living on the land for many years.
Although more places are closed now, probably due to the recession, a few places were open, and the town still boasts about 80 residents. The town hasn’t changed much since the earlier settlers and there are several interesting museums taken care of by local volunteers. There is a Chinese language school museum, the Locke Boarding House Museum and a museum where the Chinese used to gamble, complete with the old gambling tables, the old safe and other artifacts. It’s said that they kept as much as $6,000 in the safe and it was never robbed. That amount, in a period when men worked for one dollar a day is saying a lot. And it is saying a lot for the security, which included letting the dealers live upstairs of the casino.
There is still is a restaurant, “Al’s Place” on the sign, the only non-Chinese business in town, however it has been known as Al the Wops since 1941. Al died in 1961, but his place remains as a bar and restaurant which is famous for its steak dinners.
Then there is the famous toilet garden put together by Constance King, who likes to be called Connie. Connie took decommissioned toilets from different old building in Locke and has used them as planters, growing flowers in them. Connie is known as the honorary “Mayor” of Locke and at a young 85, is still going strong.
More on Locke can be found on the website Wikipedia of Locke.