Joseph T. Liu
Interviewed by Woodrow Johnson
31 July 2013
Oral History Program
Weber State University
Joseph T. Liu
31 July 2013
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Joseph T. Liu
July 31, 2013
Joseph T. Liu
in China Temple
Chinese Identification Card of
Joseph Liu’s Father, Sammy Liu
Abstract: The following is an oral history interview with Joe Liu. The interview was
conducted on July 31, 2013, by Woodrow Johnson. Joe discusses memories of
25th Street and the China Temple.
WJ: I’m Woodrow Johnson and today is July 31, 2013. We are here with Joe Liu and
his wife Pat Liu discussing memories of 25th Street and, in particular, the China
Temple. Last time we were here we talked a little bit about your father and how
he came to Salt Lake and eventually to Ogden to start the restaurant. Would you
like to cover that for us again?
JL: Sure. My dad and his father both emigrated from China. My father was about 15
years old so that would have to be in the 1920’s. They were trained in cooking in
China. They ended up in Wyoming and they had a job with the oil and gas
companies to feed the crews. They basically were the chefs for the line crews up
in Wyoming. After working with them for a while I think they started a restaurant
in Cheyenne, Wyoming. They moved to Salt Lake City, Utah and started a
restaurant during the war years. Being of the Chinese race, you had to carry an
ID card to prove that you were not Japanese so you didn’t end up in an
internment camp somewhere. He had to carry an actual card with him that said
he was of the Chinese race. That was during the war years.
After the war, around 1949, the Pagoda restaurant was started at 112 25th
Street. That was just up from Wall Avenue and it was on the north side of the
street and their sign was an actual Chinese pagoda. I can’t find any pictures of it
except for the one in the Club two-bit street cafe that used to be the Club Tavern.
It’s a night shot of the cafe. That’s the only one I’ve ever seen so far. Anyway, the
first name was the Pagoda. They found out that there was another restaurant
somewhere near that was also called the Pagoda, so they had to change the
name to The China Temple Café. It was the China Temple Café from the 1950’s
WJ: Your dad was the cook there for the entire time?
JL: Yes. He ran the kitchen all the time it was there; he was more or less the guy in
charge of the kitchen. He taught everybody how to cook and he probably
influenced the majority of the Chinese restaurants in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
There were Liu’s all the way from Provo to Logan. Every one of those
restaurants, some of their cooks started in the China Temple and that’s where
they learned their trade.
WJ Explain your childhood, because I know you weren’t always there at the China
JL: I was born in 1947 and my father and mother were never married. She was a
waitress and my dad was a cook. They would have been in the Salt Lake area
because I was born in Murray, Utah. My mom was a young alcoholic that liked to
party and raise hell. She was to marry another person, not my father, that was a
war veteran from World War II and because the war years were so recent and
because of his dislike for Orientals, me being mixed blood, he had no desire to
have any part of me whatsoever. My mom could not marry him unless she gave
me up and I guess that’s what happened. I ended up in the system in either
foster care or an orphanage. From one to five I have no memories of how I was
brought up. When I was about five or six, I was raised in Ogden by a Chinese
family that was one of my dad’s partners. He ran the dining room part and my
dad ran the kitchen. The guy, Larry Wong, was his partner and had four boys of
his own, so my dad, Sammy, got a hold of me after the first five years and got
legal custody of me. I was given guardianship to Larry Wong to take care of me
along with his four boys. I was raised with five boys.
It’s kind of interesting because I do speak a little Chinese and I do
understand a little Chinese—Utah Chinese is what I call it because it’s so
different from the different dialects in different parts of the China, just like a
southern drawl or accents are so different. I do speak a little bit of Chinese and I
do understand it because I was raised in a Chinese family. I don’t have the
opportunity to speak Chinese on a lot of occasions now, but when I get to the
San Francisco area I can still understand what is going on. It was kind of
interesting to be raised like that, being of mixed race and also without a mom and
dad—the restaurant was our life. That’s where I spent most of my time.
WJ: When did you start at the restaurant?
JL: We were always at the restaurant for whatever reason, but I didn’t really start to
understand the working of the restaurant until I was about 14. I started as a
busboy at another Chinese restaurant, not my dad’s. It was the old Canton Café
on Washington Boulevard. That’s where I started to work and my dad called me
after about a year of working up there to come down and work with him. That’s
when I started washing dishes and learning the trade of being a cook. From 15 to
17 I trained on the American side cooking the meat and eggs because it was
easier. I didn’t want to learn the Chinese side because I was lazy, so I learned on
the American side because it was the easier of the two.
WJ: So at that restaurant there was American food and Chinese food?
JL: Right. Cantonese cooking is basically the type of cooking that was there in
addition to the American side. They were open for 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
I remember dad working 16 to 18 hours a day like it was nothing. The only time
they had vacation or closed was when they did maintenance or cleaned the
restaurant. During the summer time they would usually shut down for a couple of
weeks and get everything cleaned up and painted or repaired. That was their
vacation. Any other time they were open.
WJ: What did you do after 17?
JL: I graduated in 1965 from Ogden High School. In January of 1966 I joined the
Marine Corps. I was in the Marine Corps for three and a half years. When I came
back I had no desire whatsoever to work in the restaurant because of the long
hours and it was hot, nasty work. So, I became a policeman. I started in Ogden
City in 1969 and then went to Roy in 1971 and retired from the police department
in Roy as the Assistant Chief in 1993. That’s quite a different occupation.
WJ: When you were in the military, there are rumors about 25th Street being known
throughout the world. I’m curious if while you were in the military and perhaps
even in Vietnam if you ran into anybody or heard any stories about 25th Street.
JL: I did because one of my best friends, Roger Holstein, his father was an Ogden
City policeman for 37 years. He was in the Navy as a Seabee and I was in the
Marine Corps with the tanks. There was one more young man by the name of
Rounkles who was in the Army. We were all living one block apart and we had
seen each other over there and we’d talk about home. It was kind of interesting
because we used to have the sea rations and the packages that came from the
defense depot in Ogden. Every time I’d eat a meal I’d see my hometown,
“Ogden, Utah,” printed on the box.
WJ: Did that make it hard?
JL: It did make me homesick.
WJ: Tell us about some of the memories from China Temple or 25th Street in general.
JL: China Temple was open 24 hours a day so the variety of people that came in
there ranging from regulars from the railroad, in fact when the railroad had its
boom days as the main hub in Ogden, every time an Amtrak train would come
over you could see people stand out front of the restaurant all the way down to
Wall Avenue waiting to get in. We only had a 75 person maximum capacity
inside, but they would wait. We would feed a bunch of people coming off the
trains. That was our business from the trains. When the trains weren’t coming in
you had power crews, gas crews and line crews that would come in all hours of
the day or night. When you’d have emergencies coming in, or you had a lot of
people that would come in after the bars closed, that was the interesting crowd.
The drunks would come in and a time or two I had to break up fights and things
inside the restaurant, not only with guys, but also girls. It was interesting
because you could see every walk of life come through there.
As a kid, it was kind of unique because of the reputation that Ogden had
at that time for the red light district and all the bars and being the rough part of
town. When you took advantage of it as a kid you just never knew the things you
could find and do. When I was about 10 or 12 I had a scam going to where I
would tell the servicemen where the hookers were and what hotel room to go to. I
had no idea where they were, but I would just give them a room number and they
would go ahead and knock on the door. It would cost them a buck, of course.
That was a pretty good gig, but after a while the trains died and so did my
business. You‘d try rolling drunks when they were passed out on the street and
go through their pockets. You’d never know what you’d find in there, but I quit
doing that too.
Booze was always an issue to where I didn’t have any trouble getting
booze because you had the bar next door run by the Pappas’ and the old system
of the state liquor store. The Utah laws were so unique that you had the little
ticket to write the number of what booze you wanted and you’d take it up to the
window and they’d give you the booze. My dad knew everybody that worked at
the liquor store because they came down to the restaurant and my dad would
send me up to get whatever booze he wanted. He was a drinker too, so I guess
both parents were alcoholics. He’d have three meals a day and he’d have an
ounce of booze each time he sat down to eat. For me, I just added my numbers
to his numbers and we just had booze all the time. Needless to say, I drank quite
a bit, but, then when your liquor stores closed, you could always go to a cab
driver. They used to bootleg out of the back of their cabs all the time. Using my
ingenuity again, I would threaten to turn them into the police if they didn’t sell me
the booze, so that worked too. Needless to say, my childhood was wide-eyed
and open and drinking at a young age and I fit right in the Marine Corps I guess.
Then becoming a policeman, people couldn’t believe it.
WJ: Policing the same area that you were exploiting a couple of years earlier.
JL: It was kind of interesting when I first started Ogden City as a patrolman, I would
love to work the street because everybody knew me and it was easier for me
because I knew everybody. Then, of course, I’d go into China Temple and they’d
always make sure I had enough to eat, coffee or whatever, and all the guys that
worked with me had to come with me just because Dad owned the place. There
was always something free to eat and it was kind of nice.
WJ: You mentioned earlier that red light district, Ogden being known for that. You
would have been a young kid at the time, but do you have any memories of that?
JL: Well, yeah, Dad, he used to use the electric alley as our main to get to the back
of the China Temple to park our cars when we worked, and Dad used to take me
home that way too. He would tell me where the hookers were and what to look
for. The old hotels, the Marion Hotel and down to the end of the second floor and
he would point them out to me and I never did ask him how he knew, but there
was prostitution there, I’m sure there was. As far as the stories about the tunnels
and about all this other stuff, I’ve never seen the tunnels. I’ve seen the basement
and the storage areas of the China Temple, which is now the Gift House, but I
have never heard about the underground city more or less, so I’ve never seen it.
WJ: While you were at the China Temple, it was during the time of a lot of racial
movements in America, and Ogden was at one point segregated. Do you have
any stories about segregation or anything like that?
JL: As far as segregation goes in Ogden, we had an unwritten rule that colored folk
would stay on the south side of the street and the others were on the north side
of the street. For years, the China Temple did not serve colored people. During
the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, of course, there was, I graduated in
1965 and so we started to get agitation from the coloreds by shooting out the
windows of our restaurant with .22’s. There were about three or four times that I
remember having windows shot out from across the street. After 1965, probably
right at 1965, after I graduated, during that period of time, we did start to serve
the colored people. Chinese restaurants and Chinese food specifically is totally
different from what they were used to eating, and everybody came down there to
eat Chinese food or Japanese food or even southern fried chicken across the
street. They had their own restaurant and their own bar and Annabelle had her
own set up down there. In fact, she had all the best music and all the best jazz
players and things and it was definitely segregated, but our population in Ogden
as far as the colored people were concerned was that they had very few. We
only had like maybe a dozen out of 500 kids in my class at Ogden High School.
Then, everybody realized that from probably 24th Street to 30th Street and from
Wall to Washington was the segregated area. That’s where the blacks usually
had all their housing and everything else, but there was definitely an area that
was segregated. I don’t know if it was intentional, because all your train folks
were porters and waiters basically and that’s where Annabelle got her name
from. They were all from the trains.
WJ: Did you ever feel any type of racial discrimination being half Chinese and half
JL: Yeah I did. In schools we would be called names as such, and when I was real
young they would have the old, “ching chong Chinaman,” song going all the time
and teasing. I wasn’t a real big kid at that time, I didn’t grow until after I went into
the Marine Corps I think, but I experienced it. There was one gal I was trying to
date when I was in high school that her father just came right out and said it,
“Don’t have anything to do with my daughter, you’re Chinese and we don’t want
no part of you.” Yet, I’ve had other people that loved it, they could care less so
I’ve seen both sides of the coin. Some of my best friends would just go out of the
way for me, they were just like secondary parents to me, that Holstein family was
one of them. Even in Vietnam, I thought that was kind of unique to where I had a
Chinese name and they have Chinese names and I look Oriental of course and I
really didn’t feel uncomfortable with my own people as far as Marines, but when I
was with the Vietnamese and they were looking at me and it was the same kind
of thing, it was a little spooky at times. You could think that, “maybe I would be
mistaken for somebody.” Good thing I was a lot bigger than those guys were and
that’s what made the difference. You hear about the war and segregation and the
things that were going on during the war years. We never experienced that in the
Marines, especially in tanks because it was a specialized unit. I didn’t really think
about it, except I read an article of some guy down in Cedar City and he was
slight built and everything and he was full Chinese, not half, and he was
experiencing the same kind of thing, but it was over there.
WJ: When you became a police officer for Ogden City, you mentioned that you kind of
got some strange looks from some of the cab drivers that you exploited earlier.
Did you see anything that was questionable or kind of lost in history, some fun or
JL: I don’t know. I’m not sure which stories you’re talking about. There are a lot of
stories, but as a policeman I would actually have some good contacts on the
street because of that. I could talk to the black crowd I could talk to the
bartenders and the drinking crowd and it didn’t really matter because they knew
who I was and they knew the type of person I was. As far as being a policeman,
I’m not sure which story you want to hear.
WJ: Did any of your former contacts ever try to sever ties with you as soon as you
became a police officer?
JL: Yes. There was a couple that I know for sure that backed away because they
knew I was a police officer and I knew they were criminals, basically, and they
were burglars. They would come into the restaurant of course and I knew who
they were and there were things going on that maybe you would want to look at
as a police officer of what’s going on. I would walk into a place and I’d think I
smelled marijuana being smoked or people drunk and wanting to sell stolen stuff
out of their cars. But that’s when I was a kid and these were the same people
that knew I was a policeman now. It was hard, but I could have went both ways, I
could have ended up in prison instead of a police officer. There were some
people that shied away from us that we didn’t see for a while. In fact, we arrested
a couple of them that were breaking into the old ice skating rink down there and
they were regulars of China Temple and I remembered them well.
WJ: As a child, you were growing up with the China Temple on 25th Street during the
big push for anti-vice. Are you familiar with any of the gambling halls or any of it
that was present at the time?
JL: I know that there was gambling happening and I knew that we had vice officers
supposedly working those areas. I’ve heard stories that the vice officers would
look the other way, but I don’t know. I’ve never seen it. I’ve heard just like
everybody else had heard it on the street, but there were a few officers’ names
that were mentioned, but I won’t mention them. They were working vice at the
time and there was questionable things happening or not happening I guess
because it was still there. There were still back room games and stuff going on,
but as far as being a kid and seeing all that stuff, it was mostly by ear. I’ve never
really seen it and the police officers that I knew, mostly the beat cops that would
come in for coffee when I was a kid and the vice guys would, they were up the
WJ: Do you have any memories of the Union Station in its prime?
JL: Oh, it was horrible. I mean, Union Station itself was, of course, the hub of the
railroad. Everybody was there and I would see a couple hundred people in there
when a couple of the Amtrak trains would meet in Ogden. The restaurant part of
it, it just overwhelmed you. I could not imagine that many people standing outside
in line waiting to come in to eat.
I would be young enough to where I could walk upon the viaduct and there
would be trains from the depot all the way to the river and a big round house they
used to have that you’d watch the engines being maintained and everything. All
that’s gone now, but there were probably 25 or 26 tracks along that side of the
depot. That was fun going up there just to watch the trains. I’ve spent a lot of time
on the overpass watching the trains go in and out and the workings of the round
table on the old maintenance sheds that was kind of interesting. But now it’s all
gone. In fact, that’s what killed the China Temple basically is when the train traffic
died out. It was kind of unique because partners of my dad have seen that and
they moved from the China Temple to start their own business in the 1960’s. The
only China Night was one of Dad’s partners on 28th and Washington, but Dad
never wanted to leave that area. They made enough money to live on, but not
like the 60’s when they were buying Cadillac’s. In fact, my dad’s 1961 Cadillac
was a mover.
WJ: Sound like you have some experiences with that Cadillac as well.
JL: Oh yeah. Well, you used to go down to Lagoon and see the Beach Boys and the
Paul Revere and the Raiders and the Righteous Brother and go down to concerts
and have your dad’s Cadillac and people kind of just, well to make the difference,
there’s an old drive-in up on 40th Street by the college and I would go up there in
my 1958 Ford, which was my car and I’d be sitting there 20 minutes before
somebody would come by. I’d get up in Dad’s Cadillac and I had three or four
carhops running to the car. So, yeah, I had a good time in that car.
WJ: Do you have any questions?
JL: But it was fun growing up on that street and it was a learning experience I’ll never
forget and just like being in the Marine Corps, for example, it gave me a broader
view of what people are like. Then, after the Marine Corps, that widened even
more because of Vietnam. It was interesting. I’ve never regretted it.
PL: he used to always tell me his dad drove by sound, tell them that.
WJ: Yes, let’s hear that story.
JL: The same Cadillac, Dad, of course, was born in 1905 and died in 1993, so that
puts him at about 80 something. As he got older, he would drive by sound
instead of by sight. At probably 88 or 89 years old he was still driving and every
corner of that Cadillac had a dent in it. It didn’t matter what corner you looked at,
there was a ding in it. Some of them were pretty good size too. We were at the
nursing home visiting, what I call my wicked stepmother, because she was a
stepmother from China, back from the old country and didn’t speak any English
or anything. She was in a nursing home and Dad was visiting her and I was with
him and he drove in the parking lot and everything was fine, but when we left he
backed the car out and banged into the car behind him. I said, “You hit that car
back there.” He said, “I know. That’s how I know it’s there.” Needless to say, we
took away his driver’s license shortly after that. It’s kind of interesting because
when he went into a nursing home after falling and breaking his hip before he
died, he didn’t speak English anymore, he just quit speaking English totally. All
he spoke was Chinese toward the end. It was kind of unique.
WJ: Your wife’s grandfather was the barber at the Healy Hotel, correct?
JL: Right next to it.
WJ: Right next to the Healy.
PL: It was in the Healy.
WJ: It was in the Healy? Okay. Did you have any experiences with that as well? I
know you guys met long after.
JL: I probably went in there as a kid. I remember the shoe shine stand and I
remember going in and getting haircuts and stuff, but there was also a Filipino
guy that used to run it, Plow, I think his name was. There were two or three
barbers there, but I didn’t realize that Pat’s grandfather ran that place until after
we were married and stuff and it was kind of unique how small the world was.
WJ: Most definitely. There have been a lot of great restaurants, bars, and hotels on
25th that are no longer there, like the Healy. What are your memories of some of
JL: I had some Japanese friends that were the same age as I was and going to
school, Mike Ryujin and Curtis Nakyishi. As you’d go up the street, you had the
China Temple that was in the one hundred block, then you’d go up next to the
200 hundred block and then you had the Star Noodle and then you had the
Japanese restaurant by this Nakyishi person. They ran a small restaurant right by
the Kokomo there and then you had Sukamoto’s that used to run the Eagle Café
and then you had the Senate Café that was up by where the bank is now up on
Washington. I don’t know if you heard the stories about the 25th Street Angel, a
Japanese lady that cashed the checks for the homeless or something like that.
Then, there were the motels where my dad lived. He lived in the Helena Hotel for
years on the south side and then the hotel next to the temple and then the
Marion and a few of the bars down there like, Poncho’s, and all the other people
down there. All the bars have been pretty much the same forever. There was a
lot of restaurants and different kinds of restaurants, Japanese, Chinese, but the
two most distinctive, the most favorite that people went to was the Star and the
Temple. Then after the Temple died down, all these other Chinese places started
to sprout up because Dad had enough influence to where he trained enough of
those cooks that there was the Grand View down in Provo, and then Siam in
Orem, and then there’s the second Grand View up in Logan. In fact, I used to go
with my dad and there wasn’t a place in Utah that I had to pay for any food
because he knew everybody and he trained basically everybody. Even now, out
in Tooele I have a cousin that runs one and there used to be one out of
Wendover and all over Utah. He was quite an influence, he was a good cook.
WJ: Did he cook up to the day he died, or was there a point where he decided to
JL: I think he was probably in his late 80’s by the time he retired. One time, he was a
tough old geezer, I’ll tell you. Do you know what a cubing machine is for meat?
JL: With one hundred blades or so on each blade and they rotate with each other?
My dad stuck his hand in there and literally cubed his hand. It didn’t go all the
way through but he stopped it in time. My brother owned the Dragon Café on 3rd
Street. Dad used to help my brother after the Temple went down. He was like 70,
and my brother passed out. My father stayed awake all this time and he literally
was helping my stepbrother because he was so excited about what was going
on. They had to surgically remove the tines and stuff from his hand because of
the blades and they had to sew him all back up. The next day, you’ve seen the
Chinese square cleavers that they use? He wrapped rags around it to where it
was big enough to where he could hold it in his hand with the bandages. He was
chopping vegetables working like it never happened. There was another time
when he was around 75 or something like that I think he had a heart attack and
he literally sat through it in the break room or the break table where they ate their
meals. Then later on in life he had to wear a pacemaker, so I knew he had heart
issues. He was a tough little guy and he worked hard.
WJ: Sound like it. Are there any other stories or experiences you want to share with
us before we finish up?
JL: Not really, I was just thinking that as a career police officer there are a lot of
stories, but that’s a different subject totally. My experience on 25th Street helped
me a bunch as a police officer and it helped me to know people really well and
what to look for and what not to do when you got older.
WJ: How do you feel about Ogden’s change? Going from a railroad to the railroad
dying to the new face lift it’s getting. How do you feel about the whole change
and where it’s at now?
JL: I think it’s geared up for commercialism and tax dollars and things like that. The
ambience of hometown kinds of things is gone. It just, everything is geared to
making money, but that’s the way our community has to survive too. I am glad of
the venues that are being developed in the Ogden area to attract people in, but
you still have liquor laws to worry about and things like that that will never ever
change. Until they do that, there are just things that people are just going to not
do. If you don’t keep up with the commercialized city, then the money coming in,
you won’t make it anyway. I hated to see downtown die. It made me sad just to
see all those empty stores downtown and then the mall going away. It’s okay to
see the outdoor stuff going on downtown now, but it was okay to have the mall
too. It’s changed. I’m changed. I keep forgetting that when you get a little older
your mind changes as to how you feel about things. I think we’ll make it, I think
Ogden is going to be fine. I think the things that are happening in the police
departments and things like that around us are never going to change—just
different kind of crime and different kind of issues. They’re always going to be
WJ: Thank you for letting us come and talk to you.
JL: You betcha.
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