Arguably one of the most photographed sites in San Francisco is the Gateway Arch (Dragon Gate) on Grant Avenue at Bush Street marking the entry to Chinatown, dedicated on October 18th 1970. This gate is the only authentic Chinatown Gate in North America. Unlike similar structures which usually stand on wooden pillars, this iconic symbol conforms to Chinese gateway standards using stone from base to top and green-tiled roofs in addition to wood as basic building materials. The gate is based on the ceremonial gates that can be found in Chinese villages, called paifang. The gate is adorned with sculptures of fish and dragons and is flanked by two large lion statues or fou lions, which are meant to thwart evil-spirits. The gate has three passageways. The large, central one is meant for dignitaries while the two smaller passageways are meant for the common people. Taiwan provided materials for the gate, but the design is by Chinese-American architect Clayton Lee, whose design apparently won a contest in the late 1960s. The two-tiered, pagoda-style structure was built according to principles of feng shui, which dictate (among other things) that a city’s grandest gate must face south, and — though somewhat dwarfed by the larger buildings around it — that it does. A wooden plaque hangs from the central archway, on which stand gilded characters rendering a quote from the “Father of Modern China”, the revered revolutionary leader (and one-time Chinatown resident) Dr. Sun Yat Sen:
“ALL UNDER HEAVEN IS FOR THE GOOD OF THE PEOPLE”
In China, the lion is regarded as the king of the forests and of the other animals. It has thus long been
used as a symbol of power and grandeur. It is even believed to offer protection from evil spirits. That is
why imposing statues of lions were placed at the gates of imperial palaces, official residences, temples and
tombs. Incense burners and imperial seals were also often decorated with carved lions.
Usually a male lion is on the left with the right paw on a ball – the symbol of unity of the Chinese empire –
and a female lion on the right with a cub under the left paw – a symbol of offspring. Another explanation is that the male is guarding the structure and the female protects those dwelling inside the building.