Ken Cathcart’s Chinatown

GMountaincoveruseRecently, I learned of a new book published in 2020 about San Francisco’s Chinatown in the past. Titled ‘GOLD MOUNTAIN, BIG CITY’, it’s an oversize book by author Jim Schein displaying much of the work of a mapmaker and photographer named Ken Cathcart while he lived in San Francisco during the 1930s. At $39.00 from, it’s a little pricey, but if you’re as intrigued by Chinatown as I am, it’s well worth it. Besides, there isn’t much else to do these days other than staying at home and reading a good book.  Besides wonderful vintage pictures of Chinatown and North Beach by Cathcart, mostly taken from 1937 to 1939, the book also includes a foldout map of Chinatown drawn by him in 1947. The book explores all of the areas drawn on Cathcart’s map. I had a great time during this past week, myself, exploring locations covered in the book, and taking pictures. I also know that there’s some concern and a little resentment by some people toward the residents living in Chinatown lately over COVID-19, and there shouldn’t be. Wikipedia states that Chinatown is “the most densely populated urban area west of Manhattan”, yet Chinatown has a remarkably low death rate from COVID-19. Chinatown is gradually and carefully coming back to life, and ‘GOLD MOUNTAIN, BIG CITY is a perfect way to visit there, either staying at home and reading or by going on location. My updates of a few of Ken Cathcart’s pictures are in black and white also; they turned out better that way.

CathcartMandarinoneuseGrant Avenue, between Jackson Street and Pacific Avenue, looking north in 1937: The old Mandarin Theater is in the background.

CathcartMandarintwouseLooking south in the opposite direction as the previous picture from Pacific Ave in 1939: The Mandarin Theater is on the right.

CathcartGrantSacramentouseLooking north on Grant Avenue past Sacramento Street in 1937: That’s a cable car from the old Sacramento Line passing by. You can see life starting to come back to Chinatown.

CathcartWaverlySacuseWaverly Place at Sacramento Street in 1938: Although considerable remodeled now, that’s the same building on the corner.

CathcartPlaygrounduseThe old Children’s Playground on Sacramento Street between Stockton Street and Grant Ave in 1937: an effort is underway to restore and preserve the old playground.

CathcartNWestGrantWashuseThe northwest corner of Washington Street and Grant Avenue in 1938: I like the old awning better.

CathcartGrantSacnorthuseThe same corner of Washington Street and Grant Avenue as in the previous picture, looking north in 1938:

CathcartChinaTheateruseThe Great China Theater, now the Great Star Theater, in 1938: They’re still putting on operatic shows at the Great Star Theater, although they have been closed since March because of the pandemic shutdown.

CathcartLadiesuseThese ladies in 1937 are coming out of the restaurant called Jackson Chow Mein seen in the previous picture next to the Great China Theater. There’s still a restaurant there today called Bund Shanghai Restaurant, but it’s take-out only due to the pandemic.


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