Wing Lee Laundry Site
The Puzzle Revealed

The mid-19th century archaeological deposit discovered and excavated during construction at Rich Sorro Commons in January 2001 is without question one of the most important and informative Chinese archaeological sites ever found in the United States. The data recovered at this site paint a vivid portrait of the lives of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco. A clear picture emerges of the ingenuity and adaptability of Chinese settlers in an often hostile and unpredictable land. As the historical record clearly shows, many South of Market residents were extremely hostile – often violently so – to their Chinese neighbors during this era. In fact, historical research has hinted at the distinct possibility that the Wing Lee Laundry was destroyed in a spate of Anti-Chinese violence that was perpetrated in 1877, when over twenty-five Chinese laundries in San Francisco were burned and looted.

Illustration of Chinese Laundry

Despite this, the city’s Chinese community prospered and maintained its cultural cohesion, pride and distinct sense of identity. This success in the face of relentless adversity is, ironically, made even more poignant by the meaning of the business’s name: “Forever Victorious.” While the people who operated the Wing Lee Laundry may have been reviled and while the establishment itself may have been destroyed by prejudice and hatred, it did not pass into eternal obscurity; rather, the unexpected discovery of this archaeological site has insured that the all but forgotten people who lived, laughed, debated, cried, and toiled within the walls of this enterprise will now take their rightful place in the annals of San Francisco history.
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