More Locke History


Chinese have been in the Delta at least since the 1860s. As in most of the West, the Delta's Chinese population was made up of two separate groups who had emigrated from neighboring districts in Guangdong Province in southeastern China. One group came from Sze Yap, and the other from Chungshan district.
The California state legislature passed the Swamp and Overflow Act of 1861 to encourage levee building for reclamation purposes. Subsequently, between three to four thousand Chinese laborers came to the Delta under contract to American developers built hundreds of miles of levees. Their task was arduous, requiring them to work in waist-deep water in an area which malaria was still endemic. They cut drainage ditches, built floodgates, and slowly piled up small levees. In this fashion, between 1860 to 1880 a total of 88,000 acres was reclaimed from the Delta marshlands.
Once the land became fit for agriculture, Chinese remained in the Delta to become farm workers and tenant farmers.
In 1915, both the Chungshan and Sze Yap sections of Walnut Grove's Chinatown burned to the ground. After years of less than peaceful coexistence, rather than rebuild in Walnut Grove, the Chungshan group moved out and  later built themselves a town on land leased from the family of a land owner named George Locke.
The Chinese can only leased the land to build the town because the state law forbade the Chinese immigrants to purchase land. Under terms of California's 1913 Alien Land Act, Chinese were not allowed to own land. The law was not declared unconstitutional until 1952.
Originally the town was called Lockeport, the name was later shortened to Locke. The non-English-speaking Chinese began calling it 'Lockee', and still do today.
Tin-san Chan and two other Chinese merchants leased and built the first three buildings in George Locke's property in 1912. They consist of a boarding house, a gambling parlor, and a saloon. The buildings are located at the south end of town, where the former saloon is now   the Locke Garden Restaurant.
After an accidental fire led to the complete destruction of Walnut Grove's Chinatown in 1915, a group of Chungshan merchants headed by Bing Lee, financed the construction of some nine residential houses and opened his own general merchandise store in the new town they called Locke.
The asparagus boom was in full flower by 1920 in the Delta, more and more houses and businesses catering to the Chungshan workers in the asparagus field were being built in Locke.  In 1925, Southern Pacific enlarged the packing shed across the street from Locke, consequently , Locke expanded even more rapidly. More than 600 Chinese were believed to live in town.
Throughout the 1920s illicit amusement quarter began developed in town which included gambling parlors, speakeasies, a few opium dens, and several houses of prostitution. The gambling parlors, speakeasies and opium dens were owned and operated by Chinese. The prostitution business were owned, operated, and staffed by whites. There were no Chinese prostitutes in Locke because of the respectable Chinese families in town.
Locke was a lively place in the 1920s. It had a Chinese owned movie theater called Star Theater which showed silent black and white films. A Chinese herbalist dispensed medicine and medical advice. There were six restaurants, nine grocery stores, a flour mill, a hotel, and numerous boarding houses.
A gradual decline in the Delta's Chinese population began after World War II, and population decline became more rapid in the 1950s as more and more young Chinese Americans became better educated than their parents, they rarely stayed in agricultural districts. When the state government closed down all gambling business in town, merchants started to move out, and population in town decline even faster.