Asians in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Howard Woo

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Titles Asians in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Howard Woo
Description BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Howard Woo was born in 1905 in San Francisco and came to Minnesota with his adoptive parents in 1906. His father, Yee Sing Woo (Woo Yee Sing, in Chinese name order), arrived in Minneapolis in 1882. He was a pioneer settler, successful businessman, and early leader in the Chinese community. The elder Woo married May Seen Liang (Liang May Seen) in San Francisco and brought her to Minneapolis in 1893. Both were active in the Chinese Sunday School at Westminster Presbyterian Church, a Sunday afternoon meeting place for early Chinese immigrants and their families attending religious services and English classes. Howard Woo attended Emerson School in Minneapolis during his elementary years and graduated from West High School in 1922. He entered the University of Minnesota in 1923 and received a bachelor of arts degree in 1927. He returned to the university to study architecture (which was then available only at the undergraduate level) and received a bachelor of architecture degree in 1931. Also in 1931 Woo married Lolita Young, a Chinese American from Portland, Oregon. Few jobs were available for architects during the Depression, and Woo turned to the family restaurant, known as John's Place, for employment. With the onset of World War II Woo found a job at the Twin Cities Ordnance Plant, as a gauge engineer, and later in the war years he worked as a draftsman for the Maico Corporation, which had a government contract to develop a metal detector for shrapnel. It was not until after the war that Woo was able to use his architectural training. In the early 1950s Woo became a partner in a newly formed industrial design company, Harold Darr Associates. The firm was quite successful but was dissolved in the early 1960s when Harold Darr joined the Char Lynn Company. Woo again returned to John's Place, which had become one of the Twin Cities' most popular Chinese restaurants. He remained at the family restaurant until it was closed in 1967 because the owner of the property wanted to build a parking lot in its place--a great loss to the Twin Cities community. After John's Place was closed, Woo retired to pursue a number of personal interests, including book collecting, particularly first editions and works of fine presses in which the craftwork is of special interest. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Parents' background; his father's many businesses, including the Hand Laundry, Canton Cafe, Yee Sing and Co., and Yuen Faung Low (John's Place); his mother's curio shop; his early life in Minneapolis; his years at the University of Minnesota; discrimination against Chinese in the Twin Cities during the early years of settlement; and intermarriage among the third generation. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: No oral history collection on the Chinese community in Minnesota would be complete without the testimony of Howard Woo. He was probably the first Chinese child to live in the state, and his father was an important leader of the Chinese community in Minneapolis.
Quantity 1.5 hours sound cassette
65 pages transcript
Format Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
Measurements 01:33:03 running time
Creation Interviewee: Woo, Howard
Interviewer: Mason, Sarah R.
Made in: Saint Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota, United States
Subjects Asian Americans -- Minnesota
Chinese Americans -- Minnesota.
Dates Creation: 10/09/1981
Holding Type Oral History - Interview
Identifiers OH 51 (Library Call Number)
AV1981.361.10 (Accession Number)
More Info MNHS Library Catalog
Related Collections Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Asians in Minnesota Oral History Project'


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