Grant Ave is Chinatown's economic heart, but its soul is Waverly Place, lined with flag-festooned, colorful temple balconies and family-run businesses. Readers will recognize this byway as the namesake of a lead character in Amy Tan's novel The Joy Luck Club; cinephiles from the Pursuit of Happiness; diners may know it as the location of Michelin-starred Mister Jiu's, in a historic Chinatown clinker-brick banquet hall where lunar new year has been celebrated for 130 years.
Nineteenth-century racist planning restrictions left Chinatown no place to go but up, so family associations and temples were built atop barber shops, laundries and restaurants lining Waverly Place, one block west of Grant Avenue between Washington Street and Sacramento. Through World Wars, Prohibition gunfights, and the steady march of gentrification, Waverly Place calmly stood its ground.
Temple services have been held here since 1852 – even after San Francisco's 1906 earthquake and fire, when altars were still smoldering. Indeed, the Tin How Temple, which was first built in 1852, is the oldest surviving Taoist temple in San Francisco. The current temple at 125 Waverly Place opened after the original was destroyed in the great quake. It's so important to San Francisco's Chinese community that Waverly Place is sometimes referred to as 天后庙街; 天后廟街, or Tin How Temple Street.