The Tapes of Russell Street

Part 2. Five residences & the second generation

Daniella Thompson

Mary, Mamie & Frank Tape in the 1890s (photo courtesy of Jack Kim)

20 June 2004

Members of the Tape family resided on Russell Street for nearly eighty years, from the mid-1890s until the early 1970s. During that time, they owned no fewer than five properties on the 2100 block of Russell.

Joseph Tape was an industrious and enterprising man who apparently remained active in business well past retirement age. His transport and bonding firms were prosperous enough to make possible not only the purchase of the Russell Street properties but also of ranches in Hayward and Ukiah and a cabin in Camp Meeker, not to mention numerous cars and frequent pleasure trips. Between 1896 and 1928 (when he was 76), Joseph was variously listed in the city directory as expressman; teamster; employee, Southern Pacific Co. (SP owned controlling interest in Pacific Mail Steamship Co. from 1893 to 1915); agent; transit agent; and bond broker. Even after having become a Southern Pacific employee, Joseph retained his own business. At various times, his son Frank and sons-in-law Robert Park and Herbert Chan also worked for Southern Pacific or for the Tape transport and bonding firms. By his own account, Frank left school at the age of 15 or 16 and joined his father’s drayage business as a teamster, hauling passengers’ luggage to the dock. At the age of 22, he joined his father in the employ of Southern Pacific, where he worked as a “guard and handling Chinese traveling under bond through the United States.” In the photo to the right, the legend “Mr. Tape” is visible on the frosted glass panel in the door. The typewriter is a Remington, which became popular during the early 1890s. The typist appears to be Frank.

Just as Joseph had worked as an interpreter for the Imperial Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, (see part 1 of this series), Frank Tape and his brothers-in-law Herman Lowe and Robert Park also practiced this profession—the former two for the Immigration Service, the latter for the San Francisco courts.

Herman Lowe married the Tapes’ eldest daughter, Mamie. The couple resided in San Francisco until the INS sent Herman to Portland around 1904 or 1905. They and their children Harold Lowe (1898–1981) and Emily Lum (1901–1984) spent the rest of their lives in that city, where the Lums continue to live. Frank Tape went to St. Louis in 1903 to work for the Chinese concession at the World’s Fair. Through a personal connection, he entered the Immigration Service in St. Louis without taking the civil service exam.

In 1907 Frank Tape was transferred to Portland, where he remained until the spring of 1908, when he was detailed to do “special work” under Special Investigator Richard H. Taylor. Frank and Taylor spent several months in southern California investigating “smuggling on the Mexican border.” In 1909 Frank was posted to Seattle, where he remained until 1917 or so. His official duty was interpreting for Chinese immigrants who sought admission or readmission to the United States (the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect until 1943). He also continued his occasional investigative work; in late 1911 he went with Taylor on assignment to Jamaica.

In Seattle, Frank lived well beyond his apparent means. His monthly expenditures in 1913 approached $800, on a salary of $110 per month. In Portland he had cohabited with a Caucasian women to whom he was not married, and the same occurred in Seattle with another woman. Long suspected of graft, Frank was investigated, suspended from the service in 1914, and summoned before the Walsh Commission on Industrial Relations. The so-called “smuggling of Asiatics” was a common occurrence in those days, and Asian functionaries were usually the first to come under suspicion. Joseph Tape was a suspect in a stowaway smuggling case around the same time, as was Herman Lowe. Although the suspicions were more often than not based on racial prejudice, in Frank’s case the evidence suggests that he regularly took advantage of his position to extort money from Chinese petitioners.

In the fall of 1914, Frank was arrested for extortion and accepting bribes to admit Chinese into the country. When a key witness against him was murdered in Chinatown, Frank was also tried on charges of conspiracy to intimidate witnesses. Having retained two of Seattle’s top criminal attorneys, Frank was acquitted in both cases. His INS career over, he opened a detective agency in Seattle, but a new scandal hastened his return to San Francisco, where he joined his father’s firm. His 1918 draft registration card lists his permanent address at 755 Grant Avenue in San Francisco—his father’s bonding and transits business, where he was employed at the time, in addition to being a Chinese interpreter and working for Southern Pacific. His nearest relative was given as Mrs. F. Tape, address unknown.

Frank is said by those who knew him to have been much more dedicated to the good life than to industrious work. Artist Diane Tani, who researched the Tape family tree for a 1995 exhibition catalog, listed Frank’s occupation as “Bail Broker, 814 Clay Street.” Tani cites two newspaper articles about Frank. According to the San Francisco Chronicle of 16 March 1923, he was the first Chinese juror in San Francisco. The following day, the San Francisco Examiner reported in a similar story that during World War I, Frank was with the U.S. Intelligence Bureau. In a 1974 interview for the Combined Asian American Resources Oral History Project, Frank’s widow, Ruby Kim Tape, claimed, “He was the first Chinese in Secret Service. He was back East working under President Theodore Roosevelt.” Frank told a similar, highly improbable story in 1941 to Hal Johnson of the Berkeley Daily Gazette.

Gertrude (in cravat) with Mamie (l) and family, Portland, 1911 (photo courtesy of Jack Kim)

“Frank in his Kissel car, Seattle, 1911” (photo courtesy of Jack Kim)

Emily (in hat) visiting 1743 Cedar Street. To her left: Bernice & Winnie Park, and Daisy Lee, who lived at 1744 Cedar. (photo courtesy of Jack Kim)

Compared to Joseph and Mary Tape’s steady progress into affluence, the second generation’s way in the world seems to have been somewhat less secure. The third Tape child, Emily, married Robert Leon Park (1876–1951), who was born in San Francisco, the son of a Chinese teamster. Robert graduated from Lincoln Grammar School and from Lowell High School, later taking a special course at the University of California. A Presbyterian like the Tapes, in the late 1890s he worked as a schoolteacher and headed Native Sons of the Golden State, a mutual-aid association for U.S.-born Chinese that developed into a political organization.

Said to be childhood sweethearts, Robert and Emily were wed on 2 November 1901 and moved into a house that Robert had built at 2133 Russell Street earlier that year (according to Edwards Transcript of Records, a notice of completion was filed at the Alameda County Courthouse on 1 April 1901). This was a one-story turreted cottage designed by Thomas D. Newsom and constructed by Franklin P. Wells at a cost of $1,700.

On 18 December 1902, the Parks’ only child, Frank Tape Park, was born. In 1903, Robert Park was listed in the directory as “editor SF.” From 1904 to 1906, he was an employee at Southern Pacific, as was his brother Edward. In 1907, the two brothers went into a short-lived grocery business, and the following year Robert gave his occupation as “agent” (presumably under the patronage of his father-in-law). From 1910 on, he was simultaneously interpreter and managing editor of the San Francisco newspaper The Chinese World. He appears to have separated from Emily in 1918, for that was the last year he was listed in the Berkeley directory. His 1918 draft card indicated his permanent residence was the Hall of Justice, 736 Grant Avenue, San Francisco, and his occupation was both managing editor and interpreter at the Superior Court, the latter a position he would occupy for many years. The 1920 U.S. census records him on Russell Street, but in the 1930 census, Emily is the head of household. Robert’s obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle of 5 December 1951 informed that he had been the first Chinese graduate of the San Francisco Public Schools and the first Chinese to attend the University of California.

Robert’s brother, Edward L. Park, also turned interpreter in 1914, but the 1920 U.S. census lists him as a traveling salesman for a marble company, and a few years later he would be listed in the Berkeley directory as a stonecutter, very likely as a result of having been dismissed from the INS under suspicion (probably unfounded). Edward lived in a Brown Shingle at 1743 Cedar Street with his wife Florence and two daughters, Bernice (later Mason) and Winnie (later Tong). Judging by their frequent appearances in the Tape family’s photo albums, the Ed Parks were very close to the Tapes. The Parks eventually moved to Los Angeles, residing at 821 South Hope St. and later at 2009 Toberman Street. They remained in possession of their Berkeley house until 1947, when their their daughters and grandsons sold it.

Robert & Emily Park’s home, 2133 Russell St. (photo: Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archives)

2133 Russell St. today (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Emily Park lived at 2133 Russell Street until her death in 1934. Her son Frank, a dentist, was last listed as living there in 1935. He would move to Stockton, work at the psychiatric Stockton State Hospital, and die in 1955. Robert Park eventually remarried and sold the Russell Street house in 1944. In 1957, the house was raised and converted into three apartments.

Herbert & Gertrude Chan (l) and Wah & Daisy Lee in front of 2125 Russell St., 1917 (photo courtesy of Jack Kim)

The youngest Tape child, Gertrude Ella, married Herbert Page Chan (1891–1970) in 1913. In its wedding announcement, the Oakland Tribune described Chan as “one of the brilliant Chinese graduates of the class of 1912 of the University of California” and the founder of the Eta Delta Sigma fraternity. According to Diane Tani, Chan had been a pharmaceutical student, but he doesnt appear to have practiced that profession at any time.

They built a Craftsman bungalow at 2125 Russell St., next door to the original Tape home. The Chans owned this residence until 20 May 1921. Like Robert Park, Herbert Chan appears to have enjoyed his father-in-law’s patronage. Over the years, the city directories listed his occupation as transit agent; steamship agent; agent; and clerk. In his 1917 draft card, Chan’s occupation was given as Solicitor for Pacific Mail Steam Ship Company. In April 1919, he and several partners incorporated the Pacific Canning Company in Emeryville. The 1920 U.S. census reported his occupation as cannery superintendent.

Herbert & Gertrude Chan’s home, 2125 Russell St. (photo courtesy of Jack Kim)

2125 Russell St. today (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Having sold their Russell Street house, the Chans moved to Oakland. In 1922 their residence was listed at 586 Kenmore Ave., and two years later they moved to 699 Wala Vista Avenue. The couple divorced around 1926, at which time Gertrude moved in with her parents at 2121 Russell Street. This move may have been planned as early as 1924, for in that year, Joseph Tape filed an application for an alteration permit for 2121 Russell, listing the following work to be performed:

Move house forward to the front.
Alter front and back steps.
Alter front bedroom and hall.
Change bathroom.
Change kitchen.
Enlarge one small bedroom.
Above is old part.
New half is to have two bedrooms, bath and hall.
Garage to be made for two machines [parking ?] the house. Fire Proof according to Law.

Left: Windmill and water tank at what was then 2123-1/2 Russell St.

Center: 2121 Russell St. was originally built behind the water tank.

Right: The house after it had been relocated, lifted, and enlarged. The windmill and tank were removed, but the well remained through the 1970s.

Source: Sanborn fire insurance maps, 1903, 1911 & 1950

The Tape home at 2121 Russell St. (photo courtesy of Jack Kim)

2121 Russell St. today (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

1922—Frank’s San Francisco home?
(photo courtesy of Jack Kim)

Following his Seattle episode, Frank Tape established himself in San Francisco’s Sunset District and took charge of his father’s immigration bond brokerage business at 814 Clay Street (the express and bonding firms were located at different addresses in Chinatown). In 1921, at the age of 42, he married 23-year old Ruby Kim from Marysville. Like Joseph Tape, both Frank and Ruby had a taste for the outdoors, for horseback riding, hunting, and fishing, which they indulged at the family’s 640-acre Ukiah ranch.

The elder Tapes passed away in the mid-1930s, at the height of the Depression. Their death signaled a retrenchment in the lifestyle of their offspring. Gone were the Ukiah and Hayward ranches. Frank and Ruby separated. She returned to Marysville to look after her ailing mother, and in 1943 enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps, working at various bases. When the war ended, she got a State Department post in Shanghai that came to an abrupt end when the Communists took over Nanjing. Frank gave up his San Francisco house and moved back to Berkeley, sharing 2121 Russell St. with Gertrude. From then on, no occupation was given for either of them in the city directory except for 1943, when Gertrude was listed as clerk. In 1941, a column in the Berkeley Daily Gazette carried an interview with Frank (see part 3), revealing that both he and Joseph had been volunteer firefighters in their early Berkeley days.

The properties at 2119 and 2123 Russell St. continued to generate income for the Tape children, and they held on to them until their final years. The Victorian cottage at 2123 Russell St. was listed in February 1942 for the price of $3,200 and sold in October 1946 to John W. and Gwendolyn T. Perkins for $3,150. The duplex at 2119 Russell St. was also sold to Perkins, who paid $13,500 for it in 1952, although a 1951 building permit lists him as resident-owner. This structure was torn down in 1960 to make way for an 8-unit apartment building.

Probably following Gertrude’s death in 1947, the ailing Frank asked Ruby to return and look after him. He passed away in 1950. Ruby continued to live at 2121 Russell St. until her death in 1975. Her youngest brother Jack (twenty years her junior and currently living in Castro Valley), the trustee of her estate, sold it. It was the final Tape property to be disposed of and has since been subdivided into apartments.

I’m indebted to Peter Ferris for his detailed information about Frank Tape’s life in Seattle.

Continue to Part Three

The Tapes of Russell Sreet

Essays & Stories

Copyright © 2004–2012 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.