Sunday, July 25, 2010

Details: Jue Joe, Saloon Keeper

One of the fascinating things about Jue Joe's life story is the variety of occupations and businesses he had . I was quite surprised to learn from Auntie Soo-Yin that in addition to picking grapes and pressing grapes with his feet, working on a railroad, being a houseboy, growing and selling potatoes and later asparagus , he also was a saloon keeper !!

Here is map locating Jue Joe's saloon in downtown Los Angeles which he started sometime after returning to California in 1906 .

Here is some comments from Auntie Soo Yin about the Saloon years .

SALOON YEARS: It would have been not long after Jue Joe's return in 1906. He lost his "merchant" status and would have had to acquire a business that did not require time to build up, in order to regain "merchant" status. Jue Joe had reconnected more closely with Brant. My father San Tong told me that Brant introduced Thompson to Jue Joe and Thompson had been Brant's enforcer whenever things got rough in the title business. The saloon was in full swing by 1918 when San Tong arrived in Los Angeles. He remembers that Jue Joe took him to the saloon to see it and that the saloon looked just like in a Western movie. It had a long counter with a brass bar to rest your boot on when taking a swig. He said when he and Jue Joe walked in, his father said to everyone, "Drinks on the house--meet my sons!" Then Jue Joe got behind the counter, poured beer from a tap and swirled each glass around, then he slid each glass down the counter to his customers. There was a back alley that served as a drunk tank for those who got out of hand. Thompson did the honors of escorting those folks out there. The saloon was probably ongoing while Jue Joe continued his farming ventures. I say this because when we were moving to the Northridge house, after Dorothy's eviction notice, San Tong and Guy found an unopened bill for 2 kegs of beer for the saloon. The date of the bill was 1920, I think. It probably lay unopened by Jue Joe because he most likely asked Thompson to buy him out in 1919, so he could use the money to buy the Van Nuys ranch. The 300-acre Van Nuys ranch on Vanowen Street was purchased in 1920, according to what Guy told me some years later. Auntie Soo-Yin.

Here is a picture of the corner of 2nd and Broadway taken from old post cards of the era . At the corner is the American National Bank at 2nd St and Broadway which is the Victorian building . Adjacent to it is the Merchant's Trust Bldg, and then there are a row of store fronts with awnings. Jue Joe's saloon is one of those store fronts.

Here is a detail of a line of store fronts on the raised Broadway street level that can be seen across from the cleared ruins of the bombed out 1910 LA Times building .
Thank you Auntie Soo Yin for sharing this picture with me . Click on the picture to enlarge
and look for these details:
"There is a Chinese-English doorway shown in the upper right corner of the raised street. You can enlarge the image. It's a round awning, second opening from the right corner, and is diagonal to the rear of the Times building. Your Gung Gung (San Tong) had said that the saloon's entrance was narrow, a small saloon and not fancy. But Jue Joe was the only Chinese on the block and his business was the only saloon on the street. Auntie Soo-Yin "

As Auntie Soo-Yin says : "The American National Bank was also located at 2nd St and Broadway. It was within walking distance from Jue Joe's saloon, so no wonder he found it convenient to bank there. "

Here is a photo of the American National Bank on the corner of 2nd and Broadway

Later the Victorian type building was torn down and replaced with the California building around 1910 to 1915 . I am not sure which building was on the corner at the time Jue Joe was running his Saloon . Here is a picture of the same corner after the American National Bank building was replaced. The California Building is the grey building in the center.

The LA Times building was only a block away at 1st and Broadway . It had the office of General Otis and Harry Chandler just a short walk from Jue Joe's saloon. The 1918 picture of Jue Joe and his sons was taken at the top of the Times building near the eagles in the photo.

"The photo was taken 1 month after San Tong and his brother arrived in L.A., Harry Chandler, one of Jue Joe's best friends , took the 3 up to the rooftop of the old L.A. Times building. There he posed the 3 against the brick wall of the rooftop's elevator shafts. Harry Chandler instructed his reporter to write the article. Jue Joe owned a saloon at 2nd and Broadway, which was diagonal from the Times building and General Harrison Gray Otis, original publisher of the LA times and also friends with Jue Joe,  always frequented the saloon. Auntie Soo-Yin. "

And not far away were the offices of Otto Brant in the Title Insurance Company Building on
New High and Franklin , also within walking distance of his friend's saloon.

I can imagine great grandfather holding court in his saloon as the movers and shakers of Los Angeles moseyed up to the bar !

ps you can take a wonderful virtual walking tour through old los angeles circa 1900-1920 including old LAChinatown illustrated with photos and post cards on this page

ps in later years another famous bar opened in that area called the Redwood , JFK and Nixon were reputed to have had drinks there . It has been reopened as the Redwood bar and grill.

Once a famous, and infamous, hangout for LA Times reporters (the office is just across the street, and the bar is famously equipped with a direct phone line to the news desk) the Redwood recently experienced something of a revival. A new generation of owners reopened in 2006 and have upgraded the menu, jukebox, and sound system, but left the inexplicably pirate-themed d├ęcor and thick layer of noirish history fully in tact.

I think it may be on the other side of 2nd street from great grandfather's old saloon but perhaps a field trip is in order to have a few drinks and celebrate the history of Jue Joe's saloon . This field trip is only for family members of legal drinking age !


  1. In Old Los Angeles it was custom to sell produce inside saloons. It is similar to today's mini "deli" housed inside retail stores. I believe that Jue Joe also owned the shop to the right of the "round awning" shop as well, the end unit at the right corner. There is also an alley at that end. Jue Joe was a born entrepreneur so he would have sold Byron Brant's citrus products together with his own potatoes, tomatos, and asparagus in his saloon. San Tong had said, "The saloon was at a corner of a stood diagonal across the street from the L.A. Times building, and its street level was raised above the Times location. The saloon's sidedoor opened onto an alley." Perhaps the two shops at the right end opened onto one another from the inside in order to sell both drinks and produce. I can imagine L.A.'s patrons meeting in Jue Joe's saloon to make business deals and to sell acreage in the newly subdivided San Fernando Valley. Then they would buy fruits and vegetable to bring home to the family. This was custom in saloons of Jue Joe's day. San Tong said that his father always wore his Colt.45 in a holster belted around his waist whenever he went to his saloon. "I saw other men in the saloon carrying their guns in the open like my father, too," conintued San Tong. Old Los Angeles was a frontier town. And you can see Jue Joe's saloon in a photo of the "Manchester's Trust" building, too. It is the first awning located behind the Manchester. And the Chinese doorway is next to that first awning. A drain pipe stands at the same location in both photos. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  2. Correction: I meant the "Merchant's Trust" building in the above statement, not the Manchester's Trust. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  3. There is a cut-off oak barrel placed above the entrance to the corner unit at the upper right of the #2 photo. San Tong had said that Jue Joe's kegs of beer came in oak barrels with a spoute for pouring. Maybe this logo signified that the unit was a saloon in those days, like barber shops had their logos. Also, in the #1 postcard picture that shows the Merchant's Trust bldg, there are boxes visible, indicating that the same unit could have been handling produce. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  4. UNOPENED BILL FOR 2 KEGS OF BEER, 1920: Jue Joe's bill (for 2 kegs of beer) lay unopened in 1920 because of Prohibition. I found out that Prohibition began from 1920-1933 in the USA. This explains why Jue Joe stashed the unopened bill in a field box, along with other unopened mail. He and Thompson had to shut down their saloon at 2nd and Broadway. And with the money Jue Joe had remaining, he bought the Van Nuys ranch on Vanowen Street with asparagus farming in mind. On the Van Nuys ranch San Tong recalled seeing Harrison Gray Otis and Jue Joe sitting on stools in front of a round wash tub near Jue Joe's cabin. They were talking and drinking Jue Joe's "moonshine" through a rubber hose dipped into the tub. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  5. Correction: It was Harry Chandler who had the photo and newspaper article of July 1, 1918, taken of Jue Joe, San You, and San Tong on the rooftop of the original L.A. Times building. The trio posed in front of a brick wall that connected the two elevator shafts; an eagle sat atop one shaft. Harrison Gray Otis, one of Jue Joe's best friends, had died on July 31, 1917. So it must have been Harry Chandler that San Tong saw sipping moonshine with Jue Joe on the ranch. Or perhaps San Tong had heard that Otis came to visit Jue Joe at the ranch in earlier times and had sipped Jue Joe's homemade brew. Auntie Soo-Yin.