Dogpatch Ranch: The Origins of a Chinese American Family

A film by Glenn Robert Lym as a part of his San Francisco Bay Area Video Podcast series called HERE. The whole series can be found on iTunes and Youtube.

This film is the story of railroad worker Lim Lip Hong and his wife, Chan Shee. It tells of their life and the family they raised in the 1800s on a ranch in Dogpatch, the Potrero, in San Francisco. In it, Glenn Robert Lym (great grandson of Lim Lip Hong and Chan Shee) explores why they chose to raise their family in outer San Francisco, and how they managed to do this so successfully in a period of intense anti-Chinese discrimination in Western United States.

Synopsis from Mr. Lym:

This is the story of my Chinese great grandfather Lim Lip Hong and my great grandmother Chan Shee and the family they raised in the late 1800’s on a ranch in Dogpatch, the Potrero, San Francisco on the then Bay shoreline. Lim Lip Hong had returned to San Francisco after working more than a decade in the Sierra’s and beyond, helping build railroads that criss-crossed the American West.

Why did they raise their family on a ranch in rural, outlying San Francisco instead of in protected Chinatown? And how could they do this during a period of intense anti-Chinese discrimination in San Francisco and throughout the West?

The ranch was half a acre large and located at the front gate of the biggest Potrero factory at the time – Tubbs Cordage. The ranch was intact for over 4 decades. Yet the family was never run off the property. Seven children and several grand children total were born at the ranch.

There are indications that the oldest son was employed at Tubbs as a teenager. By 1910, he was in business, doing many of the same services for Asian ships that Tubbs Cordage had done for Caucasian interests.

The 1906 Earthquake led to a dispersal of the family. Most the older offspring relocated with their own families to East Bay. The elders, the oldest son and his family and the youngest offspring remained in on the ranch. But by the early 1920’s, the ranch was demolished to make way for the construction of Minnesota Street. With the end of the ranch came the death of Lim Lip Hong.

Chan Shee and the remaining family members moved to two adjoining houses erected on a 1/10 of the original ranch land, lands post-deeded to the oldest son after the Earthquake destroyed City property records. This transaction was never contested by the Tubb family, who in fact gifted one of the houses to the oldest son in exchange for moving it from its earlier location that blocked expansion of the nearby vinegar, yeast and fertilizer factory.

This six decade tale leads to interesting suggestions about the identity of great grandfather Lim Lip Hong. Life at the ranch gave me a profound understanding of my own grandfather, Lim Lip Hong’s second son.