SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, USA: Two young children have their first ever photograph taken by Arnold Genthe in the 1890s. Mediadrumimages/Arnold Genthe

By Kate Harrold


RARE PHOTOGRAPHS bring San Francisco’s original Chinatown to life – showcasing the USA’s rich Asian-American history.

In one image, a group of men walked along the city streets in 1896 wearing dark-coloured traditional Chinese male changshans – a form of dress robe.

In another, two young girls held on to their mother’s hand as they navigated the region’s streets amidst buildings adorned with Chinese lanterns.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, USA: Children and their parents cross the road in Chinatown, San Francisco in the 1890s. Mediadrumimages/Arnold Genthe

Others showed a group of men lining up to buy flowers from the local lily vendor, and a shoe maker smoking through a Chinese tobacco pipe outside of his store.

The photographs were taken by German-American photographer Arnold Genthe whilst on a visit to Chinatown in San Francisco, California, USA, during the late 1890s. Arnold became fascinated with this area of the city after moving to San Francisco to become a tutor.

In 1906, San Francisco was struck by one of the worst earthquakes in the US’ history. Measuring eight-point-three on the Richter scale, the earthquake destroyed 80 per cent of the city including Chinatown. Arnold’s photographs are the only known images of the area before the catastrophe.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, USA: A Chinese shoemaker. Mediadrumimages/Arnold Genthe

The city’s Chinatown, established in 1848, is the oldest in the United States and it has the largest Chinese cultural identity outside of Asia. Today, it’s a major tourist attraction and brings in more visitors than the Golden Gate Bridge.