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White Rice Inn photograph and ephemera collection

Identifier: PP 0340


This collection contains photographs and various ephemera pertaining to the White Rice Inn, a Chinese restaurant owned by the Lew family in Baltimore City's Chinatown from the 1950s to the mid-1990s.


  • 1954 - 1995


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

The reproduction of materials in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine and satisfy copyright clearances or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections. For more information visit the MCHC’s Rights and Permissions page.

Biographical / Historical

In 1869, the final spike of the transcontinental railroad was laid in Promontory Summit, Utah, uniting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads. As the thousands of Chinese laborers who had substantially contributed to the project's construction returned to cities and towns in the American West, they were largely met by a tide of anti-Chinese sentiment, including racist legislation and riots in cities like Denver, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In an attempt to escape the violence and persecution as well as find more work, many Chinese Americans headed eastward, with some eventually settling in Baltimore, Maryland.

The first Chinese people most likely arrived in Baltimore during the early 1870s and by the 1880s, the city's Chinatown was firmly established. This first iteration was primarily located on the 200 block of Marion Street and consisted of a few scattered laundries, gambling houses, restaurants, and "joss houses" or Chinese temples. After World War I, Chinatown would move slightly northeast to Park Avenue and Mulberry Street (where some remnants can still be seen today). Although the early Chinese-American immigrants in Baltimore were largely single men, by the 1920s many had married and were starting families. Thus, the gambling houses began to be replaced by more family-owned businesses such as laundries and restaurants. The local church, Grace and St. Peter's at 707 Park Avenue, also became a vital community gathering spot as well, with more Chinese-Americans choosing to convert to Christianity.

Although Chinese students were able to attend white schools--the first, Hom Let, entered the Baltimore school system in 1897--many were still discriminated against. One of the largest reasons so many Chinese decided to open restaurants, laundries, and other small businesses is due to the lack of job opportunities outside of their own communities and the government. The lack of racial tensions concerning the Chinese, at least when compared to other American cities like San Francisco, is largely attributed to the fact that the Chinese population in Baltimore was never as numerically significant as it was in other places (due in part to racially-motivated federal anti-immigration legislation in the late-19th and early-20th centuries).

The Baltimore Chinese population experienced a boom during the 1940s due to multiple factors such as wartime prosperity and the passing of the Magnuson Act in 1943. This Act repealed the racist Chinese Exclusion Act, allowing Chinese immigration to resume, and for some already residing in America, permitted Chinese-Americans to finally become naturalized citizens. These events, however, were not enough to sustain Baltimore's Chinatown for long and beginning in the 1950s, many Chinese families left for the suburbs. As a 1952 article in the Afro-American notes: "Baltimore's Chinatown was always small.... Now it is even smaller"(Matthews, 1952, 8).

It is in the 1950s, at this transitional time between boom and decline, that Robert Lew (1903-1976) opened the White Rice Inn at 320 Park Avenue. The White Rice Inn operated at that location until Lew's widow, Mrs. Anna May Lew (nee Hong), sold the building in 1996. In addition to the White Rice Inn, the Lews' owned the Shang Wah Long Company--a Chinese grocery and gift shop--a few doors down at 304-306 Park Avenue as well as another restaurnt, the Rice Bowl, located in Glen Burnie, Maryland. Both of these businesses have also closed.

Today, little remains of Baltimore's Chinatown aside from a few remaining businesses and old signs, transitioning into an enclave for Ethiopian immigrants. There have been numerous discussions since the 1970s about revitalizing the area and honoring its Chinese heritage. In 2017, artist Jeff Huntington painted a mural depicting a Chinese dragon and the Conquering Lion of Judah, which represents the Ethiopian presence in the neighborhood.


.21 Linear Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials



The materials in this collection have been arranged into two series: Photographs and Ephemera.

Items in Series I: Photographs are arranged according to the original order in which they were received and recorded by the Baltimore City Life Museums.

Items in Series II: Ephemera, are also arranged in the order in which they were received and recorded by the Baltimore City Life Museums.

Custodial History

Gift of Carol and Kenneth Lew in 1994 and 1995 to the Baltimore City Life Museums (BCLM). Transferred to the Maryland Historical Society in 1997 after the closure of the BCLM.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred to Special Collections from MCHC's Museum Collection in February 2022. Previously listed as accession numbers BCLM-1994.126.1-.32, BCLM-1994.125.38, BCLM-1994.126.58, and BCLM-1995.7.2-.11.


Baltimore Chinatown Project. Maryland Carey Law. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2022, from
Chinese-americans, others help lew celebrate birthday. (1955, Feb 28). The Sun (1837-) Retrieved from
DEATH NOTICES. (1976, Sep 16). The Sun (1837-) Retrieved from
Five minute histories: Chinatown. (2022, February 1). Baltimore Heritage. Retrieved April 12, 2022, from
MATTHEWS, R., J. (1952, Jul 12). The AFRO goes to see chinatown. Afro-American (1893-) Retrieved from
Wan, W. (2005, Apr 03). Once-teeming chinatowns in decline across country ; tradition: Migration to the suburbs leads to their demise in baltimore and other cities.: [FINAL edition]. The Sun Retrieved from
Armenti, D. (2013, August 15). "is he white or colored?": Chinese in Baltimore city public schools. Maryland Center for History and Culture. Retrieved April 12, 2022, from

Scope and Contents

The White Rice Inn photograph and ephemera collection consists primarily of black and white photographs, color photographs, and ephemera from approximately 1954-1995. The collection is arranged into two series: Series I: Photographs and Series II: Ephemera.

Series I consists of 30 items (28 photographic prints and 2 negatives). This series includes exterior and interior photographs of the White Rice Inn restaurant; color images of several Chinese New Year parades in Baltimore; exteriors of various businesses in Baltimore's Chinatown (some of which were taken by Mrs. Anna May Hong Lew), and a black and white photo studio portrait of Mr. Robert Lew, the original owner of the White Rice Inn.

Series II consists of mixed materials that pertain to the White Rice Inn as well as the other businesses owned by the Lew family including the Shang Wah Long Company--a Chinese grocery and gift shop located at 304-306 Park Avenue--and the Rice Bowl restaurant in Glen Burnie, Maryland. This series includes various ephemera such as menus from the White Rice Inn; a piece of letterhead stationery; Robert Lew's business card; and a pair of paper placemats detailing the Chinese zodiac.


Guide to the White Rice Inn photograph and ephemera collection
Rebecca McGivney
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library Repository

H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Center for History and Culture
610 Park Avenue
Baltimore MD 21201 United States