Locke, California

Historic Chinese Town

Old gas pump in front of last building on east side of Main Street

Gas pump on Main Street dates back to 1920ies

The east side of Main Street, looking north

The town of Locke is unincorporated and there are no elected officials. Chinese immigrants first came to the Delta in the 1860ies to work on building the levees. The California state legislature passed the Swamp and Overflow Act in 1861 in order to reclaim land in the Delta for farming. After 1880, when 88,000 acres of land had been reclaimed in the Delta, the Chinese immigrants stayed on as farm workers. In the 1920ies, the main crop in the Locke area was asparagus.

All the buildings that you see in Locke today were built by 1920 and the town still looks essentially the way it did back then. During the roaring 20ies, Locke had three gambling houses, several opium dens, a speak easy or two, and five houses of ill repute, but no police force. Chinese farm workers, who were mostly single men, worked 6 days a week for a dollar a day, and came to Locke to socialize on their one day off.

Front of building on Main Street is shaded from western sun

Living quarters have balconies overlooking Main Street

The streets of Locke are less than a quarter of a mile long. During its heyday, Locke was filled with visitors; residents sat on their balconies overlooking Main Street and chatted with their neighbors, who all shared a common language.

The California Alien Land law prevented non-citizens from owning land in California. The Japanese and Chinese immigrants were prevented from becoming American citizens until after 1952 when the original US naturalization laws were declared unconstitutional. These naturalization laws had allowed only free white people to become citizens; after the Civil War, black people became citizens of the United States under the 14th Amendment, but Chinese immigrants could not become citizens until 1952. The residents of Locke could own their houses, but not the land on which they were built.

Joe Shoong School

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