Locke in the 1970’s

Jone Ho Leong planting garlic.

Editor’s Note: The Locke Foundation presents photography by James D. Motlow from his book, “Bitter Melon”. The exhibition runs now through September 30th at the Boarding House Museum, 19316 Main Street, Locke, CA, Tuesday & Friday 12-4, Saturday & Sunday 11-3.  Reception is Saturday, September 27th noon to 4pm. Artist’s lecture is at 3pm. 

“Bitter Melon, Inside America’s Last Rural Chinese Town.” 

My father first introduced me to the Sacramento Delta in the 1950’s, taking me on Sunday drives south from the city along the tree-lined levee roads. Later, as a young man, when the streets of Sacramento were melting and my spirits feeling trapped, I would escape alone down River Road, were the air was softly blowing across the wide, green-yellow fields. From the road atop the levees I could glimpse the slow green river on its way to San Francisco and, stopping my car, I would get out and let the air wrap itself around my body, setting my captured emotions free. I experienced a soundness and sense of place in the Delta I never felt in Sacramento. I feel the same way today about this remarkable place.

Bing Fai Chow overlooking Main Street Locke.

But it wasn’t until February 1971 that I became a part of the Delta, when I stopped to visit a friend in Locke on my way to San Francisco. To my surprise, he was planning on leaving, and offered me his place on Main Street to rent. I’d been looking for a place in the country for a long time—for a home away from Sacramento and its white-bread, middle-American culture. I was looking for a refuge, a retreat, a place to study and practice my photography.

Wong Yow & winter melons.

“Why not Locke?”, I thought. It was small, quiet, unique; with its Main Street of ram-shackle wooden buildings and second-story balconies sloping over the sidewalk, it seemed like a quintessential Hollywood western town, just twenty-five miles from Sacramento. Besides, I’d always wanted to live on Main Street somewhere, for all the sentimental feelings the name connotes. So on a whim, an instinct, I rented his place that day. It was a decision that would affect my life right up to the present day. 

(Preface to “Bitter Melon”)

Key Street living room.
Main Street.

 

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