Grandson of the father of Peter Leung
Interviewee: Wallace Leung (Grandson of the father of Peter Leung)
Interviewer: Connie Young Yu and Barre Fong
Location: Palo Alto, California
Length of the Interview: 46 minutes, 36 seconds
00:07 Connie Young Yu: Yes. It certainly is authentic. Beautiful embroidery in the back.
00:11 Leung: Yeah. That’s my mother’s collection of blind stitch.
00:16 Yu: Yes, so your mother was – this is really something. Well, we’re going to start by you, you are going to introduce yourself, and tell where you are born, and what year – just tell us.
00:27 Leung: Oh. Okay. I should have had a script. Oh, my name is Wallace Leung. I was born in July 14th, 1930 in Palo Alto. And I’m now 86 years old. And I’ve gone to school throughout the Palo Alto School System and graduated from Berkeley and San Jose State and, and majored in Engineering. And worked at Lockheed for 35 years and retired from that company in 1992. And I have my wife Ellen, we’ve been married 62 years. And we have 3 children, uh, Bing, who had passed away, and Kathleen and Alicia and six grandchildren. And all of them are almost out of the college. Oh, in fact, many of them are out of college. And got one more grandson, Connor who is at Berkeley, and so, he’s a sophomore now. And he’s the last one. So basically, that’s a summary of my background.
02:01 Yu: So the next question – [interrupted by phone in the background] 02:03 Leung: Now what do you want?
02:08 Yu: I just wanted to ask about your parents – your mother and father – could you talk about them? You know? How did you end up in Palo Alto?
02:14 Leung: Oh, okay. Okay. My parents – my father is Peter Leung. He came over from China, I don’t know exactly what year. But he was raised in Palo Alto, went through the local school system, graduated from Paly High. And during the Depression years, he had to work in the restaurant – family restaurant – to save the them from going under – and he majored in architecture at San Jose State, but he had to curtail his studies due to the Depression. And then, he married my mother, Lily Chew from San Francisco. And she was from a family – her father was herbalist and lived at 727 Washington Street in San Francisco. And they owned that building and so she and, let’s see, five sisters and three brothers were raised in San Francisco primarily. And, um, my grandfather was associated with the Chinese St Mary’s Catholic Church. And he was a member of Chinese Family Association for Family Sze Sing, so he was active in that. And he was a great Chinese musician, he played the zuk, the peipaa, and everything else that came with it, so he was a natural musician. But his main business was an herbalist and that was the way he made his living.
04:30 Yu: Do you think he was – he was born in the United States?
04:37 Leung: No, I think he was born in China.
04:39 Yu: But somebody came before him?
04:42 Leung: Somehow or another. I don’t know that part of the history. Because we were somewhat remote, living in Palo Alto, and he being in San Francisco – it’s a long drive and I can only see a maybe a couple of times a year or something like that. But I know the rest of the family were very closely connected. And so, we, we get together once in a while, annually, basically – Christmas.
05:16 Yu: So it’s on your father’s side – we want to talk about your father’s side and your great-, your grandfather who worked at Stanford.
05:23 Leung: Yeah. Oh, my grandfather started to work at Stanford when he was a young fellow. There was no other work to be done and so he is basically a, what do you call it, a handyman. And worked in a fraternity house. I forgot which one it was but basically did all the chores at the fraternity house, cook, clean up, and whatever task they had to do. Given that he was an Oriental, there were no other opportunities in town for any type of, you know, jobs or income. And he worked on the farms locally. And so he decided to start his business here in Palo Alto.
06:24 Yu: That’s how he came – his first job was at Stanford, as a young – do you know how old he was when he was?
06:29 Leung: Well, I’m sure he must have been sort of like a teenager, and so, he did whatever jobs that – there were available, at that time, to survive. Um, he had many friends who are of the same age groups and so they got along pretty well and in this locale.
06:54 Yu: Do you think that – were his friends also worked at Stanford? Did his friends also work at Stanford?
06:58 Leung: Who? Oh yeah, I’m sure, you know, how teenagers are at that time. You can’t track their movements. And you can’t track their activities. But he finally decided that he was going to open a restaurant, and he opened up the first restaurant on High Street. I believe it’s a 400 block High Street behind the so-called Wilson’s Candy Store. But that kind of closed up. And, and he decided to go in partnership with a bunch of friends – the Mok family, the Wang family, and he. And it didn’t work out too well because there were too many family members in that group that sort of, you know, didn’t quite get along, basically. And so he decided to start his own restaurant on Emerson Street and this was sorta like in 1926.
08:13 Leung: And the restaurant was built and designed by Bruce M. Clark, who is the son of Clark, who is a professor of architecture at Stanford at that time. So, so the restaurant was built. And I believe in 1929 or 1928, they had open up the restaurant. And it was a very elegant restaurant, catering food mostly to the Caucasian trade, because there were no Orientals in town that really could afford to eat out at that time. And the only food that he would prepare would be for himself and the cooks which would be the traditional Cantonese style food, the peasant food. And, but the rest of it was basically like ham and eggs and steaks and chops and stuff like that. The restaurant was designed in such a way that there was at central staircase where you can go up and have private dining upstairs. And then, on the left hand side of the restaurant will be private booths for people who wants privacy. And the other side was open for the general public where it was sort of like a boarding house style. You reach for whatever you need to. Yeah. People were not very, you know, particular about what they ate. It was something substantial. And he would help the Stanford students to get by by hiring them to become waiters and stuff like that. And so he went and all the years that the Stanford students who needed jobs were taken care of in his establishment. And so he did a lot of, you know, generous gestures.
10:26 Yu: Were the Stanford students white?
10:28 Leung: Yes, basically. Yeah. Because there weren’t too many Chinese students at Stanford that actually, you know, had the opportunity to work. It’s very difficult for them to even find a place to live on the campus and – at that time – and so Stanford students, I mean, the Chinese Stanford students, had to kinda fend for themselves in housing and in food or restaurant, I mean, you know, I don’t even know where they ate – they probably cooked themselves somehow or another.
11:09 Yu: So Stanford, you knew that Stanford students were not allowed in the dorms – is that –
11:15 Leung: Yeah. Because my, our old friend, Mr Mark Kye Kee was student at Stanford and he was telling me the problems that he had, when he was a student. And so, but the story is the same. You know, the Oriental students were not treated the same way as the regular students.
11:44 Yu: Did you know about the Stanford Clubhouse?
11:48 Leung: No, I never knew of the Stanford Clubhouse, because I was not of the age where I was kind of, like, informed or interested in that activity. But there were a strong contention of Chinese students at that place and I don’t even know where it’s located in anymore.
12:13 Yu: Yeah. It was torn down for the Law School but it was uh, built with funds raised by Chinese Americans, because the Chinese were not allowed in the dorms.
12:23 Leung: Oh yeah, yeah.
12:24 Yu: They were first allowed in the dorms, but they were – one guy was thrown out bodily.
12:28 Leung: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, I see.
12:30 Yu: They, a band of Chinese students decided they’ll have their own Clubhouse where a few students lived. Like my father who commuted – he took the train, stayed there, and visited, and that’s how he visited with the few Chinese. That’s how I know about it. And also there is this history. That I just thought you might know.
12:52 Did you know – back to your, your grandfather, what was his name? Your grandfather?
12:58 Leung: Leung Gei.
13:00 Yu: I think we have – you have his photograph? You’ll show us later?
13:04 Leung: Yes, uh huh.
13:05 Yu: And then, did he talk about, anything about his work? Did he mention Stanford? Working at Stanford?
13:15 Leung: Uh, no. I only know the fact that he had kind of worked there and saved some money in order for him to start a restaurant. So he must have been doing okay at that time.
13:31 Yu: And then, oh, what’s the name of the restaurant that he?
13:37 Leung: The Mandarin Grill.
13:39 Yu: So, they, it’s called The Mandarin Grill but there’s no Chinese food?
13:43 Leung: Uh, Chinese food is only served for the Chinese trade. And for the restaurant help and people in – for themselves and for the family. But basically, I don’t ever remember many Chinese families even patronizing our restaurant. Because the other family – the Mok family and the Wong family – had their members worked at the City Cafe on University Avenue. So they had their own – what do you call – family dinners at the City Cafe. So, it appears to me that all kinds of family members of the Wong, the Wans, and the, and the Moks, go there and have their family dinners at the restaurant. I don’t know what made it popular or not, but that was the way it worked, you know.
14:53 Yu: But, the Chinese could buy houses at that time?
14:57 Leung: No, I think it was restricted. Even my home here, it was stated that no Chinese were allowed to purchase this property in this general area. And so, we were able to buy after the, you know, the Exclusion was kind of lifted. But my friend, uh, the Gene Gongs, their house is on the other side of this piece of property. And the contractor would not allow them to buy within this track, but he had a piece of property that the Gongs could buy on the other side of St. Clair, and so they were the one and only Chinese family that had the property, that was able to buy property on Cowper Street. They were one of the first Chinese families that resided on Cowper Street within this block here. And I believe we were basically the second one. And there was a whole bunch of Japanese families further on up between St. Clair and Loma Verde. But later on, there were a lot of Chinese families that moved in here. Namely Ken and Mary Mar, they used to live on the corner house.
16:47 Yu: What year did you buy [unclear]?
16:49 Leung: We bought this place in, what, 1956, Ellen? Someplace in there/
16:56 Ellen Wong Leung: We had trouble buying [distant audio] 16:59 Leung: What?
17:01 Ellen Wong Leung: When we were looking for homes, we were shown East Palo Alto and – [distant audio] 17:11 Yu: Oh, we’ll do that later. I’m sorry. We’ll finish this one first.
17:15 So, if you could tell us, there’s a Jew family. Thomas Jew family that had a laundry.
17:22 Leung: Yeah. Um, the Jew family had a laundry and they were on the 600 block Emerson Street. They operate their restaurant but they seem to have a grocery store, but I never saw any groceries in the store. It was sort of a family home and, and their family was huge. They had, there’s Paul Jew, Lillian Jew, Albert, Doris, Barbara Ann, Mary, I guess. No, I can’t remember who they all are right now. But they, they were remarkable family. And it was fantastic to have known them, growing up with them.
18:27 Yu: Yes, I met Thomas.
18:31 Leung: And Albert Jew started his first, sort of like HP, working in his garage, and he formed his own electronic company with a guy named Cruise. And they call a Alfred Electronic. And so he was the first Chinese, so-called CEO of Alfred Electronics. And later on establish himself up at Stanford, industrial track. And later sold the business to Singer Company.
19:11 Yu: And this is the son of the laundryman. The son of the laundryman. So-?
19:16 Leung: Yeah, right. Rose Jew was the mother. But I don’t remember seeing Al’s father. At that time I was only like, oh, I don’t know, maybe 5-6 years old and so right, I just don’t have any collection, recollection.
19:37 Yu: It was a good business in Palo Alto. Right?
19:41 Leung: Well, I don’t know what other business they had, but laundry was basically they’re thing. And later on they sold the business to Eddie Wong family, and he had -.
20:00 Yu: Uh, hear any attitudes about Stanford from the elders – that are either positive or negative, Leland Stanford Farm? You know, the image of Stanford?
20:13 Leung: Well, at that point, I wasn’t politically involved in what they had to do. All I was, was just growing up, and I had my own personal interest in sports and getting my education. And so politically, I wasn’t involved, but after I had graduated, then I realized how unfair my parents and other people of Chinese ancestry were treated by Stanford. And the one thing that I had seen was the fact that the Stanford Museum collection did not show any Chinese images in their pictures that I’ve seen in their display. And primarily the famous photo of the Golden Spike in Ogden, Utah. I mean everyone else was there but there was no image of Chinese laborers. And they built the Railroad. And so I made a point of that but no one did anything about it. But I think that maybe you might be able to stir up some dust.
21:38 Yu: Well, this Project is a part of that. Bringing back that history. What we need is you know, if there’s any oral history about the workers that came down on the -. Leland Stanford, after building the Railroad, hired a lot of the former railroad workers for his farming. And we just wanted to know if you heard anything about this? I mean this was a different generation from flower growers, but still, it’s people from the same area of China.
22:14 Leung: Right, well that I don’t know, but I have some distant relatives – truck drivers – up in Grass Valley and places like that, who had their parents work on different phases of the Railroad business up in the Sierras. And I guess that’s where most of them had decide to live, up in Grass Valley. But, and, um, and, some people that I went to school with, at Cal, their families resided in the town outside of Sacramento – Locke – and I went to school with a few of those. And they took on the family business of raising rice in Suisun and places like that, but that, I don’t know too much about. But there they were, all scattered all over California, through the Sacramento Valley.
23:31 Yu: So your kinsmen in Suisun or Grass Valley, what was their last name?
23:40 Leung: Oh, I don’t know the family too well. But he was, my Uncle Wei Chan. And he married into my mother’s family, married mother’s sister. And so for the longest time, he was basically working in, in the business of driving trucks and stuff like that, working on the farm. But there wasn’t too much other to offer.
24:20 Leung: But, ironically, you know, after World War II, most of us were given the opportunity to go to school. And that was the most important aspect of how the Chinese had kind of like broke out of the web of economic depression. For, for instance, every one of them had a chance to go to Berkeley at that time or some other college. They became dentists, and I don’t know, opticians or ophthalmologists, and they became accountants, they became pharmacist. And that was the generation just before me. And they became very successful. And they start to break away from Chinatown and they had the opportunity to buy homes at that time.
25:36 Leung: And the second generation from them is where my friends have grown up, went to Berkeley, got our degrees in engineering and start working in Silicon Valley here. And so, that’s when we sort of broke away from poverty and away from the ghettos of San Francisco. And the families were able to buy out towards the Avenues, otherwise you were limited up to Mason Street. Broadway was boarded by the Italians. and then below Kearny, the Filipinos, and then, then beyond the California Avenue, which is almost the end of Chinatown there, is where the other people live. And it wasn’t until, well, I don’t know, 1960, that the Chinese were able to progress out toward 7th, 8th, 48th Avenue, out in the Avenues, you know, and so a lot of my friends are living out there now, but that’s because they broke away from the ghetto. And they were able to pay for their own homes, having a good job like being a pharmacist, you know. And all of my friends, a lot of my friends are pharmacists and became doctors. And so, that’s how we were able to progress into this general area.
27:22 Leung: But then, there, I believe in 1992 , when Kennedy opened up the floodgates, then all of the people from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong were able to come into this general area. But most of these people were also given opportunities to study in the major universities in the United States, like Michigan, Auburn, Alabama, Texas and Georgetown, and New York. And they became professionals. And they moved around. And a lot of them came in from the Midwest, western universities like Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio State. They came in the Silicon Valley and became top-notch engineers. And then, and those that could not find a government job that have – secret clearances – security clearances, they became professors in the field that they were technically competent. And so you’ll see a lot of Chinese professors at University of Dayton, at Indiana, Illinois, MIT and these are the people that excelled in the profession. And then, there were doctors involved too.
29:05 Yu: But your family was unusual in that your grandfather was here in Palo Alto. And he must have made friends with Bruce M. Clark, you know, the architect. I mean, the son of a professor at Stanford?
29:17 Leung: Well, no, it was just happenstance that he was basically the only architect in town. And, um, his services were needed.
29:29 Yu: And he would build a restaurant for Chinese people?
29:33 Leung: Yeah. He designed the restaurant for my grandfather, with this Chinese motif. And it’s really ironic that after Bruce Clark and designed the thing, my dad became interested in being an architect, but because of the War and trying to save the restaurant and so on, he had to curtail his architectural schooling at San Jose State. And, and later on, in years, because he was a good draftsman, a good technical man, he worked at Kaiser shipyards in Richmond. And he was instrumental in building these Liberty ships that launched from, I mean, from key to launch in seven days, you know, and he was very proud of his contribution in building those ships in Richmond. But the tough part was that he had to commute from Palo Alto to Richmond everyday. And at that time, the Bay Bridge was just built in 1936 and 1937, you know, but the commute was just tremendous. It took him almost like an hour and a half to get to Richmond.
31:18 Yu: Did your grandfather own the property of the restaurant?
31:24 Leung: Yes, he finally bought the place. Yeah.
31:28 Yu: So he was able to buy property.
31:30 Leung: Yeah. Right. Because, somehow or another, he wasn’t a citizen. But with legal help, he was able to get through the paperwork.
31:44 Yu: I think it’s very interesting about Stanford Shopping Center. And I just want to ask you a couple questions because you worked there too. Do you know the farm, the piece of land that you worked on, who owned it? I mean, who leased it from Stanford?
32:03 Leung: Oh, you know, I don’t know. There were like maybe eight different major farmers that would rate the crops and they would sign their contracts with either who owned the property, you know, be it in Belmont, be it at Stanford, be it in Milpitas, be it at San Jose, I don’t know how it works. But they were able to negotiate a lease for so long. But they have to rotate the crops, because you cannot plant the chrysanthemums too frequently on the same plot of lands. And so they had to know how to fertilize it, how to re-, you know, rejuvenate the soil, and so that was their trade. But Sanford owned so much property that, that land wasn’t useful to them at that point in time.
33:11 Yu: Now it’s the biggest – one of the most popular shopping centers in California.
33:17 Leung: Yeah, and then they were down here Mayfield too, somehow or another, little bits of plots of land that they would cultivate.
33:29 Yu: Well, could you describe Mayfield? People don’t know the term anymore, it’s all Palo Alto.
33:36 Leung: Well, Mayfield was really the major part of town. It was the oldest part of Palo Alto. And they were able to have alcohol served in saloons and stuff like that. Whereas Downtown Palo Alto was restricted from serving alcohol at that time, because Stanford imposed the restriction that there be no alcohol on the Stanford campus. And this is why there’s that name of Rosati’s Barn out behind Sanford where they had allowed students to go out there to, to buy alcohol. And the Oasis in San Mateo County because San Mateo didn’t have that restriction, so all the students kind of wound up buying the liquor in the area right where Beltramo’s used to be and the Oasis. They have all kinds of beer joints along El Camino Real at that time, but Palo Alto was restricted from serving. We finally got a license in the restaurant to serve beer, that was about the only thing.
35:04 Yu: And I heard that Mayfield was where the Chinese first lived. Is that right? Chinese came to live there?
35:10 Leung: Yeah. Yeah. We finally moved from 833 Emerson Street down to 394 Grant Street in Palo Alto, I mean, in Mayfield, because we were growing up and Mom and Dad decided that we couldn’t live with the grandparents much anymore. And so we found a beautiful Spanish home and we lived there until, let’s see, after we got married 54 – around 1960 or something like that – then by eminent domain, the county of Santa Clara took over our property and gave us a [unclear] amount for it, to build the North County Courthouse. And to this day, they never use the property. It’s still an empty little lot there. And so I don’t know what, but every place else is being build up with apartments now. And my dad wanted to build a, an apartment for himself with [unclear] and move the house across California Avenue, towards, towards Stanford Avenue, but the city would not allow him to do that. I don’t know why, it’s another restriction of some type, and so the house was destroyed. It was a beautiful Spanish House, with hand-tile, handmade tile, and all that, wrought iron, and Spanish styling and -. Couldn’t believe it. But that was then. That was the way things were. You just took over the property and left the way it is.
37:11 Yu: I have a couple questions about your family. The, uh, your grandfather came from – was he Toishan or Zhongshan? What district was he from?
37:23 Leung: Well, I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s something like, they tell me it was **Kam Leng.**
37:31 Yu: Which is Zhongshan?
37:34 Leung: And then, and then, but we spoke – basically, I don’t know. I learned more San Yup than Sze Yup.
37:44 Yu: And then, that’s your grandfather’s side. How about your grandmother’s side? They are both from the same [unclear]. Well, Dam Lun people or Zhongshan people were flower growers. Do you know why? Do you know why they grew chrysanthemums and dominated the chrysanthemum business? Is that a flower in China? No, is it? I was asking you. Since you had to pick the guk faa [Cantonese word for chrysanthemums]?
38:09 Leung: Yeah, same. Yeah guk faa [Cantonese word for chrysanthemums]. I didn’t know that.
38:18 Leung: Yeah, that, I mean we grew so many varieties of chrysanthemums. It was just amazing, you know, we had the spider mums, we had the regular, you know, close, asters, and they had the pompoms, and they had, you just name – I never seen so many varieties of asters and chrysanthemums.
38:50 Yu: And then, how did – where were they sold? I mean, what is the process like?
38:54 Leung: Oh, they had a wholesaler. I remember the name from San Francisco, called Sabatini Wholesaler. They would come by early in the morning and we would pick bunches of 50, flowers in a bunch, and these would be about that big. You know. And it would be tightly wound and you had to stick it in the water the night before so that it would stayed. And you would have to pick it just at the right time so that so that by the time they picked it up, the blossom would not have opened too much. And they would get paid by the condition of a flower – if it was too wide open, it’s a loss. And if it’s too close, you know, you would maybe get a better price for that bunch. And so, that was the way it worked. They would come through and I’ll take this and the, and I’ll give you two dollars or something like that. A bunch of 50, uh, I don’t know.
40:13 Leung: But one thing that they were good about was that the flower growers took care of the people that worked for them. They transported them from San Francisco to their fields somehow or another. And those that are too far away had tar paper shacks to stay overnight. You know, they sleepover some place or another. And they would cook for them, almost like three meals a day. I would go up there in the morning, maybe eight o’clock, and they would have pastries, donuts, and everything else ready, you know. And then at lunch, someone would cook a really nice home-cooked dinner. And they had professional, I mean people who just cooked and prepared meals, rather than just pick flowers, you know. And then, at dinner time, they would serve some of the people before they took up by home to San Francisco. And, and basically I learned most of my poor Chinese grammar from these old ladies that were working with me or I was working with them. And they would ask me, “do you have a girlfriend?” Or “do you have -?” “what are you going to do?” “what are your folks doing?” So on, so forth. And so, I learned their dialect. You know, how good it was.
41:47 Yu: So you think that – you know, the people who leased land, that’s a, that was a very good opportunity to make money. And they leased from Stanford. So they felt that they got a good deal from Stanford?
42:05 Leung: Yeah, yeah. Oh yeah. It was a way of making a living. That was it. There’s nothing in Chinatown in San Francisco. The weather was bad. And here you got sunshine, healthy air.
42:20 Yu: Well, some of these land leases went all the way back to like 1890s, you know. So Mrs. Stanford, you know, actually signed some of the leases. But it wasn’t for growing flowers in the beginning. They were, uh, well yes, flowers and vegetables – so Mok family was there very early.
42:43 Leung: Yeah. Yeah, I only know of the one Mok family that is living in Milpitas right now. And – but all the other ones have passed away. And so, I have no idea where they are right now. But they, they leased the land for so long and they move on and I don’t know where they went.
43:09 Yu: They sent money to China.
43:12 Leung: I don’t know for sure, where they went.
43:17 Yu: I just know that the Mok family you are talking about, they established a school in the Delta.
43:22 Leung: Right, Mr. Mok, yeah. He established a school, which is a great gesture you know, thanking the people that he grew up with. Yeah. That’s, that’s important.
43:43 Yu: Very good. That’s so interesting. The Stanford connection. After the Railroad. This was the next generation of railroad workers.
43:51 Leung: It is ironic that, here, my grandfather worked at Stanford, you know, basically as a laborer. And, and, here, my son was able to graduate from Stanford in Biology. And then I have another nephew that is on my mother’s side, graduated from Stanford, in Engineering. Then I have another distant nephew from my grandfather sides that graduated from Stanford in Engineering. And then, there was a flock of other relations. Oh, and then I have my cousin’s daughter who is now at Stanford – she’s in ballet and all that, right now. And then I have my granddaughter’s got her doctorate in Neural – something – Sciences at Stanford and should be graduating next year or so. And so it turns out that Stanford has given our family a great start. And Ellen have worked at Hoover library for many years. And so, here we are. I mean, we can’t be more happy than to be blessed with a connection at Stanford and providing us with the best eras in life and the location here in Palo Alto. So fortunate.
45:41 Yu: That is a wonderful conclusion. And that’s a good summary. This is how, this is exactly what we hoped to hear – a complete story, beginning with the labor.
45:58 Leung: So from beginning to end so far, our family have been blessed to know him.
46:08 Yu: Gordon Chang, who is heading the project, he’s a professor of history at Stanford. He was looking for these kinds of connections, about people who might have worked there. If Stanford benefited them, they benefited from Stanford, you know, you have several generations.
46:29 Leung: Yeah, we’re very fortunate that Dad made the connection.
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