A 1941 ad for Fong Wan’t New Shanghai Club in downtown Oakland, featuring Mei Lan, the “original Chinese Sally Rand,” and the Fong Wan Acrobatic Troupe. Also note Samee Tong as the master of ceremonies. Tong, a San Francisco native, worked on bills at Fong Wan’s clubs for years and was frequently billed as “The playboy of Chinatown.” Tong had a long acting career dating back to 1934 and lasting into the 1960s. He had a regular role (as a Chinese houseboy) in the 1950s sitcom “Bachelor Father” and an appearance in the classic film comedy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” as a Chinese laundryman.
A program at 2 p.m. April 11 at the Richmond Museum of History will look at the life of Fong Wan, one of the greatest Oakland entrepreneurs you’ve probably never heard about.
Fong Wan was a savvy marketer — and heavy advertiser in newspapers around the Bay Area — who established an herbalist shop in Oakland and built on that with a diverse number of enterprises during the 1930s and ’40s that included night clubs in Oakland and San Francisco and a shrimp harvesting business based in Richmond.
Most importantly, Fong Wan successfully branded himself, putting the Fong Wan name — and usually his picture in advertisements — before the public at a time when Asians were largely kept on the margins of society.
The building where he had his herbalist shop and the family home on 10th Street in Oakland is still standing.
Here is the official announcement:
The Richmond Museum of History is pleased to announce an upcoming program about the Chinese experience in Richmond. Calvin Fong will speak on
Saturday April 11 at 2 p.m. about his Father, Fong Wan, and their experience owning the Fong Wan Shrimp Company (1934-1948) in Richmond.
Fong Wan was a Chinese immigrant based in Oakland who ran many businesses including hotels, night clubs, restaurants, an emporium type store, and a shrimp harvesting and distribution business. However, Fong Wan is best remembered for his role as a noted herbalist, who was arrested and accused of being a fraud and ultimately acquitted each time.
Learn more about the fascinating history of Fong Wan and his time in Richmond on Saturday April 11, 2015 at 2PM. The program is free with general admission of $5 for adults and $3 for seniors/students. More information at the Richmond Museum website: http://richmondmuseum.org
This program is being held in conjunction with the temporary exhibit Shrimping on the Bay: A view from Richmond on view at the Richmond Museum of History from March 21 – May 21, 2015. For more information call 510-235-7387 or email email@example.com.