Photograph 5

The word "unique" is often misused, but with Locke, California, it is just right. This unique community is the last remaining rural chinese-originated and operated village in the U.S. It has been here in the Sacramento Delta area since 1915 and before, and it has changed very little in appearance since. Except for the distinctive weathered and faded appearance of its buildings. Except for the fact that, instead of from nearly a thousand Chinese residents for a long period in the thirties, forties, and fifties it is down to a handful of Chinese and about forty anglo and chicano residents. Plus the dozen dogs and the thriving cat community (about fifty).

From a bustling waterfront town of restaurants, saloons, dance parlors (and yes, "houses of ill repute," with dancing girls and gambling, and the occasional opium parlor, it had become a faded shadow of its former bustle and glitter. But it still lives, the rowdy, bawdy old days replaced with gift shops, art galleries, and the one (Chinese) restaurant and the still-thriving saloon (Al-The-Wop's) and a regular flow of tourists, bikers, fishermen amd locals (farmers, artists, musicians, residents) and people actually do live in those bone-dry wood frame old buildings. "Do people actually LIVE in those buildings?" is a question I've heard so many times, especially when I lived in one of the older ramshackles right on the main street.

People visit Locke via boat (a public dock has been installed in nearby Walnut Grove), by motorcylce (one of the largest regular group of "pilgrims), bicycle, tour bus, and automobile. Invariably they all react the same: "Migawd! just look at this old place! These buildings are about to topple!"

But topple they are not. In fact the area's bulding are being structurally refurbished with federal support (Historic Communities), and the County has recently purchased the property from the Hong Kong consortium that has owned it privately for decades.

Changes have already come in the form of restructuring and repainting the buildings. Resident have been offered now to purchase the lots on which their houses stand. With government intervention and control come government regulations and policies (and some would say "paranoia.")

So locke's fifty or so residents and merchants stand wringing their hands--and smiling bravely--while awaiting word of new and earthshaking changes handed down by the county in the interest of "safety, health, environment," those benevolent sounding themes that can only result in Locke of old becoming Locke of new, different, and, perhaps, paradise lost, an era gone by.

[end article]

The Locke website can be found with the key word "Locketown"

photos and story: James R. Engle 2002