Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Ranch House

(Thanks to Auntie Estelle for this wonderful aerial photo of the ranch house in the old days)

It is a magical place , the Ranch House that San Tong builds in 1945 (was it 1947 ?)on the site of Jue Joe's original homestead in Van Nuys .

Some of my earliest memories are playing in the house with my cousin Scott, Auntie Joan's eldest son in the late 1950's . For 5 or 6 year old kids , the place was immense . I remember the red carpets, the big piano , the huge picture of my great grandfather over the mantel , the big long staircase and the huge upstairs wing., the veranda out back, the giant swimming pool , and enormous tortoise out back . There was a school house, a gas pump , barns with old cars and ancient newspapers. There was great mystery also about the place and something hinting even for a young kid of sorrow and loss. The place seemed unkempt , in decay. It was , of course , center piece of a courtroom drama being played out by my elders. I did not know of these things at the time .. BUT I do remember falling in the fish pond , and thinking that for sure I would drown because I could not swim , but feeling immense gratitude when my cousin , Scott , reached down and hauled me out and saved me ! I remember one of my aunties washing me out in the upstairs bathroom and a gold fish falling out of my pants. These are some of my earliest and strongest memories.

The house was built by San Tong to be the center of the clan universe, a place of refuge for those to come when in trouble , a place of happiness with the Chinese character for happiness carved into the front door . It was also to be a gift to his mom who had lived a hard life .

It was home at various times for San Tong , Ping , Leong Shee , Jack , Joan , , Soo-Yin, Pingileen, Guy , and Soo Jan . On the ranch property , Cousin Loon also lived with Aunt Fay ( more about Cousin Loon and his family in an upcoming blog ) , Mama and Papa Kuwihara., who were elderly japanese , were hired by San Tong after they were released from an internment camp were also on the ranch .

My mother's father, Reverend Kwok , taught Chinese to the kids of San Tong and Ping. and he and my grandmother Kwok lived nearby after my dad married my mom .

Dorothy and Corrine would come and visit . Corrine had gone to UCLA , and Dorothy to USC,

Later Dorothy went to post graduate studies at John Hopkins . Corrine married Lansing Kwok a wealthy Hong Kong Import , export businessman . and Dorothy married Warren Moe , a physician . San Tong supported their education while continuing farming operations in Van Nuys , Saugus /Newhall , and the Imperial Valley. Later some of the land of the Van Nuys farm is sold for subdivisions, but San Tong reserves some of the lots for family.

It was the central universe of the clan , the gathering point .. but there were big storms on the horizon.


  1. Auntie Soo-Jan writes:

    We called my grandmother Posie , a nickname taken from the Chinese word for grandmother, “Pau”, but she is listed as Leong Shee on immigration papers )
    I recall moving from the old farm house that had asparagus pushing up through the floors and termite invasions every spring over to the big house when I was about 9 years old, which would be 1947 or so. The house was built soon after World War Two was over. There were 3 bedrooms downstairs and 4 bedrooms upstairs. Posie, Jack and Joan occupied the downstairs, while my Mom and Dad, Guy, myself had our own bedrooms, then Pingy and Soo-Yin shared the last one. Soo-Yin was just a toddler. I don’t recall Dorothy and Corrine ever living there, but they did come to visit. I thought that Dorothy lived in a house in San Fernando because I remember visiting there and playing with a little girl down the street until her mother forbade her to play with an oriental (remember that this was right after the War). Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that Jack left the big house when he went away to college. Joan moved to her own house when she married Richard. After they left, Guy and I moved downstairs and Pingy and Soo-Yin had their own rooms upstairs. My job was to take care of Posie’s needs, like doing her hair and driving her around for her errands. She loved to go out every day to Van Nuys for shopping and she’d just buy one little thing so that she could go again the next day for her outiing

  2. Gosh, I certainly remember the 2 termite holes located on the clapboard floor near the front door of Leong Shee's old cottage (our home until San Tong built the big house). It was one large hole and one smaller one. As a toddler I fell into the big one many times! In our new house I remember us kids skating on the flat rooftop above the indoor porch when our parents weren't home. There were no barriers to catch us if we were unable to stop at the roof's edge. Brother Guy would dare us to see how far we could skate to the edge. It was fun and exciting to do something we weren't suppose to do. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  3. After Pearl Harbor, Mama and Papa Kurihara were incarcerated at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, from 1942 to 1945. The conditions were harsh for them, being Issei (immigrants). The camp had 468 bldgs. divided into 20 blocks with each block having 2 communal toilets. They lived in a 16'x20' tarpapered clapboard cabin. When war ended, they were released and given $25 and train tickets. They had lost everything and were too old to start over. Hearing of their destitution San Tong gave them Jue Joe's cabin to live in--rent free. The childless couple became part of our extended family. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  4. Early San Fernando Valley history was ranch culture. It was home to many interesting families. One of our neighbors was an old retired German couple. They had been spies for the American military during WWII. They had infiltrated Hitler's inner circle and had provided very valuable information. So valuable that they eventually were captured by Hitler's SS and were placed before a firing squad. Seconds before shots were about to fire our American spy network managed to free the couple and spirit them back to California. They told my father San Tong their story without any expression on their faces. To my father they seemed very brave and good people but cold and steady as steel in their outward appearance. Mostly, the German couple kept to themselves. There was a gypsy family that worked on the Van Nuys ranch for awhile. They lived in their own culture and camped on the grounds. And then there was "Wino Mikey." Mikey had worked on our ranch for one season but spent most of his hours in the city's slammer for drunkiness. He had no home or family and so he'd crash for the night in one of our horse's stable, the stable that later became Guy's horse "Senator's" stable. At first San Tong tried to pursuade Mikey to leave, but then gave up and told Mikey he could stay as long as he did not make any trouble. So strays like Mikey became part of our extended family. He used one side of the stable as his latrine, the side that faced the strong afternoon sun, and he was nice to my siblings and I. Ramon Navarro was a favored family member, too. He was also Ritchie Valen's stepfather by common law. Ramon was a very good worker, loyal, and a very gentle man. Whenever Immigration Marshals came after him on the ranch my father would hide him in a bathroom adjacent to our family room. Shades pulled down, we were ordered not to say a word, and, "For heaven's sake," said my father, "muzzle our mutt Bingo so he won't give Ramon away!" After Ritchie Valen's biological father who was a musician died, Ritchie came to live for awhile with Ramon and Connie (Ritchie's mother)and his half siblings on our ranch. He was always drumming on field boxes and singing. When he was twelve years old he threw a rock at a beehive. The bees went mad. The Mexican workers ran for cover in all directions. And San Tong had to shut down the farm for three days. When the coast was clear I went outside to look at the splayed hive. I remember seeing pieces of beeswax scattered about on the ground, and I picked up one piece to play with. Bingo was a mixed black terrier and was a puppy when Shorty (who had worked on the Jue Joe Ranch for three generations) gave him to us. Bingo loved Jalapeno cheese and rolled in horse shit to keep the flies off his fur. He would not let us wash him and so we pet him with our feet. He was king of our grounds and of our packing house operations. He was the best watch dog we ever had. But the milkman hated Bingo. And he had the leg tatoos to show why. Bingo only liked a Japanese fish man who rolled up our driveway in his green truck to sell fresh catch. The fish man always threw Bingo a squid. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  5. I think Dorothy and Corrine lived with us in the big new house--only for a short while before Corrine married Lansing, and before Dorothy left for school. Corrine had the bedroom next to Posie's because, as a child, I used to visit her bedroom so that she'd dab perfume behind my ears. She always had fancy perfumes. And she would insist that her mother wear silk stockings whenever Lansing came courting. Dorothy lived in the bedroom near Corrine's that was called the "den." When she was in a good mood I would ask her politely for a piece of candy. I knew that she always had candy in her bedroom. Later, her den room became Jack's, then Guy's becroom. And Corrine's room became Joan's, then Soo-Jan's bedroom. I think in the very early years Jack and Joan shared a bedroom upstairs (the one later to be Soo-Jan's, then Pingileen's, in which a window opened onto the roof of our indoor porch). And Soo-Jan and Guy shared a bedroom next door, the one that looked out to the front lawn. After our aunts moved away we got rooms to ourselves like in musical chairs. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  6. Thanks for this fascinating history of your family farmhouse. I was a student at
    Birmingham High School, across the street (Balboa Blvd.). Pingileen was in my graduating class (1960). She was very popular and a high achiever. And mysterious. Her brother was a basketball player in Taiwan, I recall, and quite famous. I was in a car club named the Saracens. One of my best friends and fellow Saracen was Phil Nutzhorn. He was Native American, though most of the Birmingham students did not know it at the time. Phil and I got to talking about the abandoned "mansion" across the street (in your photograph) one night and decided to sneak over there and prowl around. This was in the early 1960s, and we had already graduated from high school. Every room was ankle deep in cancelled checks. I recall they all had something to do with the buying and selling of agricultural commodities. We connected the premises with Pingileen and her family, and the mystery about he grew deeper and more complex. Years passed, then decades. I went on to become a college professor and study American Gypsies, so it is quite a surprise to discover that they had camped out on your farm. It is a joy to read that Richie Valens also lived there. Thanks again for providing this website and the family history of Jue Joe and the farmhouse and the many who lived there. I am now going to e-mail Phil and share this fascinating news. Best! David Nemeth

    1. Hi David, So glad you found the blog! Fascinating that you were in my Aunty Pingeleen's class and that you and Phil got to explore the farm house!
      Neither of my Aunt's brothers ( My Uncle Guy or my Dad , Jack Sr. ) were famous basketball players, so not sure how that rumor started :) !!
      Best regards to you and Phil

    2. What a wonderful man Guy Jue. We were on Birmingham's first track team in 1954 and for two years after. Guy ran all the sprint races 100, 200 and 440 yard relay. In the fall he played basketball in the old Birmingham Hospital gym. He was pleasant, soft spoken and always had a great smile on his face. Yes, a very special team mate.

      Pat Connelly, BHS Class W'57