Ask Me: Fresno's former Paris Café specialized in Chinese food

The Fresno BeeNovember 23, 2013 

The Paris Cafe on F Street between Kern and Tulare in Fresno's Chinatown seen Monday, November 18, 2013.

CRAIG KOHLRUSS — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

Question: While growing up in Mendota our mom always took us to the Paris Café for Chinese food. It was her favorite spot. What is its history and is it still there?

-- Fernando Gamez Jr., Tijuana, Mexico

Answer: Although named after a French city, the Paris Café on F Street specialized in Chinese food. The only exception on the menu was American-style fried chicken.

The café was named after Paris, France, because one of the former owners liked the city, according to Helen Wong, who with her husband, Kong Chin Wong, owned the Paris from 1978 until it closed in 2012.

A 1935 advertisement in The Bee stated the Paris is "where lovers of Chinese foods revel in the tasty dishes that have already established this café as being the most popular in the Valley." The menu featured a "special roast chicken Chinese dinner" for 40 cents.

Helen Wong's father, Gong Dai Fong, and three other men bought the Paris in the late 1940s.

Fong came to the United States in 1939 and cooked for Chinese restaurants. He went back to China in 1947 and returned to America a few years later.

The restaurant originally was located two doors down F Street, Wong said, but was closed by the health department in 1968. It was reopened in a bigger space at 921 F St. the next year.

"A lot of people really enjoyed the old Paris Café," Wong said. Some of the booths had radios and curtains that could be closed for privacy.

The Paris was a family run business: Fong's wife, Gem Yenz Leong, and children Caroline, Helen, William and Warren often worked in the restaurant. Wong said her first job was washing dishes.

A 1971 Fresno Bee story described the Paris Café with bright orange booths, Chinese art and hanging lanterns. The café had a loyal following and also was the site of Chinese New Year celebrations, wedding receptions and reunions.

Question: Why does Ventura Avenue become Kings Canyon Road where it turns eastward out of downtown Fresno?

-- Ken Ogle, San Francisco

Answer: When the Central Pacific Railroad drew the original map of Fresno in 1872, the streets parallel to the tracks were assigned letters and the cross streets were named after California counties, according to late author and local historian Catherine Rehart. Thus, Ventura Avenue is for Ventura County, which was named after the San Buenventura Mission founded in 1782.

The portion of Ventura Avenue that bends east toward the mountains was renamed in 1953 because it leads to Kings Canyon National Park. The park, which opened in 1940, was so named because it contains the headwaters of the Kings River. In 1805, Spanish Lt. Gabriel Moraga named the river El Rio de Los Santos Reyes, the River of the Holy Kings.

Question: In the late 1940s, when my dad and I would cross Cottonwood Creek on the way to fish at Millerton Lake, he would point out the nearby Indian Springs. What is the history of the place?

-- Larry Dunn, Fresno

Answer: The mineral springs resort in Madera County was long a tourist stop on a stage road.

According to a member of the family that privately owns the land, relative and rancher Ike Ball came across Native Americans drawing water from a spring on the land in the 1920s. They told Ball the water had medicinal properties so he opened a resort around it.

A 1944 classified advertisement in The Bee for Indian Mineral Springs described it as "open all winter, four miles north of Friant. No snow. Above fog line."

The business rented "warm modern cabins" for $10 a week, "including baths and water."

A 1945 advertisement listed rooms and a cabin with "all conveniences, two blocks to school," renting for $10 to $20 a month.

The resort closed during the 1950s, and the land is still privately owned today.

More about: After the answer to the Central and Fresno high schools' formerly identical mascots ran on Nov. 10, Susan Weber of Fresno sent an email about her mother's connection to Central's former mascot.

"My mom, Martha Lawless of Fresno, graduated from Central in 1940 and has a sweater with the Warrior on it, and it is the same as what Fresno High has now," Weber wrote.

Central High changed its mascot to the Grizzlies in 1942 to distinguish itself from Fresno High's Warriors.

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to askpaulalloyd@yahoo.com or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.

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