Locke Historic District – Walnut Grove, California - Atlas Obscura
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Locke Historic District

Walnut Grove, California

The only standing town in the United States that early Chinese Americans built for themselves. 

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The unincorporated community of Locke, originally called Lockeport and located just 30 miles from downtown Sacramento, is the only standing town in the United States that Chinese residents had built for themselves, rather than being relegated to sections of towns or cities. Locke lies along the Sacramento River, one of a series of towns within the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta (the Delta, colloquially). It was built in 1915, after a fire in Chinatown of nearby Walnut Grove displaced the Chinese population, and takes its name from George W. Locke who purchased numerous parcels of Delta swampland in the 1850s which included what became known as Locke Ranch and what is now the town of Locke today.

The town’s Main Street is less than a quarter-mile long. There are several small museums, an art center and informational buildings, including the Dai Loy Gambling Museum (located in an old gambling hall), several gift shops, a Chinese restaurant, and a bar-restaurant called Al the Wop’s (the derogatory name was chosen playfully by owner Al Adami, an Italian from San Francisco, who opened the only non-Chinese-owned business in Locke in 1934). Adami died in 1961, but the restaurant still stands (called Al’s Place), popular with bikers and known for serving peanut butter with their steak. In the middle of the street is a small memorial garden dedicated to Chinese immigrant laborers who worked on farms, mines, and railroads in the United States. 

Locke isn’t what it was in its heyday, but it’s not a ghost town either. According to the town’s website, there are 70 to 80 remaining residents, only 10 of whom are Chinese. 

Know Before You Go

From Sacramento, take 5 South to Exit 498-Twin Cities Road. Turn left on River Road, and follow it for about two miles. You will see the "Welcome to Locke" sign, as well as Locke Garden Restaurant. GPS apps will recognize Locke as part of Walnut Grove. Be prepared to lose cell phone service on the way there as well as go without service while in Locke. Please be respectful of area residents.

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