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Jul 11

Ah Louis, pioneer builder of San Luis Obispo

Ah Louis has to be on any top ten list of early persons of influence in San Luis Obispo. This article comes from the May 10, 1956 Centurama edition of the then Telegram-Tribune but the column was republished from one written in 1929 so some of the references need to be updated.
Post a comment if you know where the Pickwick Stage or Obispo Cafe were.

Ah Louis was the nickname given to Wong On who arrived in San Luis Obispo about 1870.

Ah Louis was the nickname given to Wong On who arrived in San Luis Obispo about 1870.

He Helped Build the City
Many articles have been written on the career of Ah Louis whose life in San Luis Obispo spanned well over half a century.
The following is taken from the El Camino year book, published by Mission high school in 1929, sketching some of the highlights of his career:
“At the time of this writing, AH Louis was 89 years old. Leaving china at the age of 21, he came to the United States, and spent 59 of these 65 years in San Luis Obispo.
“When he first came to San Luis Obispo, Ah Louis worked as a cook at the French hotel, which was situated on the corner opposite the mission, where the recently torn down Mission Garage stood. Subsequently he was foreman and employment agent of all the Chinese who worked on the P.C. railroad. After that he had charge of the Chinese miners who worked in the quicksilver mines near Cambria.
“Later Ah Louis owned the first brick yard near the Oceanic mines from which came the bricks for the first brick building in Cambria. After that, Ah Louis and an American became partners, and owned the first brick yard in San Luis Obispo. Afterward he built his own brick yard on property he bought from the Johnson estate.
“When Ah Louis first came to San Luis Obispo, there was only one picket fence in the town; it was south of San Luis Creek and was owned by Mr. Steele. There was no water reservoir, and water was bought for the price of fifty cents a gallon.
“The first brick building in San Luis Obispo was where the Obispo cafe stood, the second where the Pickwick stage stood, the third was the Sinsheimer building and the Ah Louis store, the fourth.
At that time, Ah Louis owned half a block of Chinatown, and in years past all of the Chinese living there were under him, as he was Mayor of Chinatown.”

There are different versions of how Wong On came to be known as Ah Louis. The most common story is that he was given the name by John Harford who hired him as labor contractor for construction of the Pacific Coast Railway. Another interview (from the History in San Luis Obispo website) quotes Louis in 1934. He said his name was pronounced Ah Loo-ee. The nick name came to him from a store owner in Oregon where he worked before coming to San Luis Obispo.

Related posts:

  1. Goldtree Brothers, pioneer merchants in San Luis Obispo and San Miguel
  2. Honoring Dr. Louis Tedone
  3. Monterey Street stories – San Luis Obispo
  4. San Luis Obispo Gasworks
  5. San Luis Obispo builds a City Hall on Higuera Street