Scrapbook page from Howard Louis' Scrapbook, showing several different prints of city views testing out different exposure settings.

Written by on May 26, 2020

Recently digitized Louis family scrapbooks now online

This post was written by Special Collections and Archives Student Assistant Isabel Brady (Econ ’20) when she digitized materials from the Ah Louis Family Papers.

Special Collections and Archives recently digitized two scrapbooks from the Louis Family Papers collection documenting the family’s trip to China in 1932-33.

I previously digitized Howard Louis’ scrapbook from his high school and university years. For this project, I’ve delved into Howard and his brother Fred’s scrapbooks from their trip to China in 1932-33 with their father, Ah Louis, and family member Kerman Wong. These scrapbooks, like Howard’s school scrapbook, are filled with photographs of friends and family, new and old, beautiful sights and witty captions. I’ve digitized only two of many scrapbooks and photographs in the archive commemorating their trip. I believe that one of the scrapbooks was made by Fred Louis while the other is by Howard Louis. 

The Louis family was a prominent Chinese-American family in San Luis Obispo for over a century. Wong On, also known as Ah Louis, the patriarch of the family, came to California from his home in Guangdong Province (today’s Greater Taishan Region), China between 1855 and 1861 when he was about 21 years old. He started by working odd jobs and became a labor contractor, also owning a brick-yard, seed farm and general store in San Luis Obispo. At 92 years old and after more than 70 years in California, Ah Louis planned to return to the place he was born to live the remainder of his life. Ah Louis and his sons, Fred and Howard, who were both born in San Luis Obispo, set out across the Pacific Ocean on the S.S. President Hoover. Along the way they made stops in Honolulu, Yokohama/Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong and finally to Ah Louis’ hometown near Canton City (Guangzhou). 

Both Fred and Howard were avid photographers. From the beginning of their trip, they passed the time on board taking photographs of one another on the ship’s deck. At each of their stops they captured the people, landmarks and everyday scenes they encountered. 

Scrapbook page from Howard Louis' Scrapbook, showing several different prints of city views testing out different exposure settings.

A page in Fred’s scrapbook titled “A Study in Photography” from a day of experimenting with different openings and timings. Louis family scrapbook, China trip, 1933, Louis Family Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Cal Poly.

Their first stop on their journey brought them to Honolulu, Hawaii. Photographs of Diamond Head from Waikiki Beach show them soaking up the sun on the island. On the ship, they captured the scenes on the deck and beyond. 

Page from Fred's scrapbook showing photos of views on the boat that took them to China.

On board the S.S. President Hoover, Fred photographed passengers, the Aloha Tower, the Honolulu docks and Howard and Kerman on deck. Louis family scrapbook, China trip, 1933, Louis Family Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Cal Poly.

In Japan, Fred and Howard met up with a childhood friend from San Luis Obispo studying in Tokyo. From there they went to Shanghai and Hong Kong. 

Page from Howard Louis's Scrabpook with four photos of views of Shanghai, including a photo of Ah Louis with a woman

Views of Shanghai, Ah Louis with a woman, and row boats up along the side of the ship with a woman looking out the porthole. Louis family scrapbook, China trip, 1933, Louis Family Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Cal Poly.

In Hong Kong, they visited Lingnan University and took the ferry from Hong Kong to Macau. Their photos capture a different view of the streets of the city. Upon their arrival in Canton City, they took part in a bridge opening ceremony. As one of the oldest people in the city, Ah Louis was honored by leading the city in their first walk across the bridge. 

Scrapbook page featuring four black and white photographs, including a photo of Ah Louis in hat, people seated at the ceremony, and street views.

Howard photographs Ah Louis (“Dad” center) with Kerman (left) and Fred (right) on the Hoi Chu Bridge in Canton City (Guangzhou) and the bridge opening ceremonies. The number on the photographs correspond to the numbers in the key Howard Louis wrote. Louis family scrapbook, China trip, 1932-1933, Louis Family Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Cal Poly.

Screen capture of typewritten pages written by Howard Louis to describe the photos in his scrapbook. One of the photo descriptions says "Opening of the New Hoi Chu (Pearl River) bridge, looking up Wai Oi Road, you can see for yourself what a turnout it was...."

A key to the photos in the scrapbook are Howard “Toby” Louis’ numbered captions he typed and annotated, as seen above. These help fill in more information about the places and sights he photographed and sent home to his family in San Luis Obispo. China Trip Scrapbook Key by Howard Louis, Louis Family Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Cal Poly.

After a long journey and many stops they made it to Ah Louis’ birthplace, Loong On, near Canton City. They celebrated his 93rd birthday with a large party of over 200 people from the surrounding villages. They visited the school that Ah Louis had built on a previous trip to China before his sons were born. In their time at the village, they captured many photos of rural China.  

 

 

 

 

Scrapbook page with black and white photos of scenes from the village Loong On including photos of groups of children, agricultural fields, and Taoist priest.

Images of Ah Louis’ birthplace Loong On when he and his sons traveled there in 1933. Fred Louis is pictured with village children in the top right photograph. In the bottom left photograph, Fred Louis and a woman stand in front of a framed portrait of Ah Louis. Louis family scrapbook, China trip, 1932-1933, Louis Family Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Cal Poly.

But after some time in the village, Ah Louis was unhappy with how the village had progressed since his last visit. He decided that he did not want to live his life out in Loong On and wanted to go back to San Luis Obispo.

Ah Louis, Howard, and Fred returned in the fall of 1933 to San Francisco. Ah Louis anticipated living out the remainder of his days in China; therefore he did not have the requisite paperwork needed to return to the United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act required Chinese-born individuals to obtain certification for re-entry; as a result Ah Louis, accompanied by Fred and Howard, was detained at Angel Island, San Francisco. After obtaining written support from several San Luis Obispo residents, including Mayor Sinsheimer and Superior Court Judge Norton, Louis was permitted to reenter the United States in November 1933.

These scrapbooks are a small selection of the photographs and information we have in the archive from this trip and from the Louis family. See everything we’ve digitized from the Louis Family Papers at this link, and see the collection finding aid at this link.

Citations:

I would like to credit H. K. Wong’s Gum sahn yun: Gold mountain men (1987) for some of the biographical information and details of the trip that I have mentioned here. Link to catalog record: https://cpslo-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/39e239/01CALS_ALMA71416229180002901

Read more on AAPI Month, Louis Family Papers, and special collections and archives.

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