Wednesday, November 29, 2017

History of the Dai Loy Museum

When visiting Locke, California, you might wander into the Dai Loy Museum. This historic building was once one of several gambling halls that was popular, especially during the 1920's. The hall itself is said to have been constructed in 1916 and remained a gambling hall until it was shut down in the 1950's. This blog will not touch on the earlier times this building has seen as a gambling hall, but instead this blog post will primarily focus on the museum itself: when it was opened, who was involved and so forth.

According to archived newsletters from the Sacramento River Delta Historical Society (which I have obtained 40 years worth of copies of), I have been able to form a timeline and a brief history of the Dai Loy Museum and some of the people who made the museum possible. All notations below are compiled from said newsletters.

The Dai Loy Museum Project

A project that took over seven weeks and 40 members of the historical society to complete, "scrubbing, sorting, cleaning, sweeping, repairing, painting and fixing," the building to make it available to be used as a museum open to the public.

On April 29th and 30th, of 1977, the Dai Loy Museum celebrated its Grand Opening. The cost to enter was $5 per person, and it started at 6 p.m. and ended at 9 p.m.  It was opened every weekend until November and remained that way for many years.  All volunteers were members of the historical society (SRDHS).

By 1979, the River News Herald in Rio Vista reported that the town of Locke was awarded $140,000 history grant, which was the 5th largest grant from the Department of Interior's Historic Preservation Fund.

In 1980, Bob James, Galen & Maryn Whitney, Jim and Barbara Dahlberg, Loyal Mealer and Clarence Pratt worked hard to revamp the museum, keeping exhibits repaired and restored on a constant basis.  Clarence is mentioned a lot over the years, and it appears he was the one who spearheaded the project and became the No. 1 docent at the museum for many years (along with his wife, Emma).

By 1981, the museum had been opened for only 4 years, but had already seen a total of 45,000 visitors. In that season alone they received 11,443 visitors.

In 1982, Brother Dennis from St. Mary's College donated: an old straw hat, straw war shield, wooden spear and wooden flute to the museum.  Marie Camozzi, a former operator of the Tule's Restaurant in Locke,  donated a framed photo. Tim Wilson donated account books and Lind and Ed Dutra installed fire extinguishers to the building for safety. The 1982 season saw a total of 11,579 visitors.

In 1983, there are notations that three tour companies were making regular trips to Locke: Exploration Cruise Lines, Yankee Tours and Cherokee Tours. Clarence Pratt was always there at the museum to guide all the visitors around.  By that time there had been visitors from 40 states in the U.S. as well as 24 countries. There were also regular schools having field trips to Locke from all over the bay area.  During that season, other museum volunteers running the place were Paul and Lucy Barnes. By the end of the 1983 season, the museum had received a total of 15,000 visitors.

1984 saw 6,642 visitors between March and June, and the volunteers for that season included Jim Dahlberg, Jim Gualco, Don Quesenberry and Bob Peters.

By 1985, there had been 5,502 visitors between March and June, from 29 states and 23 countries. Donations to the museum included:  Chinese bench from the "old men's club" by Frances Armstrong, a soy jug for display from Kathie Graham, the Estate of Bob Suen donated a Chinese sign from the Locke Sportsmen's Club, Glyta Hedges (from Lake Tahoe) donated a photo of Locke and Walnut Grove. Iva Corder (from Isleton) donated newspaper clippings from 1972 about Isleton. Gregg Campbell donated a transcribed oral history about Portuguese and Japanese in Freeport, Jim Bullock donated an old highway map.  Steve Simmons donated a Delta Country book, and Edwin and Enid Wright donated four albums of the historical society's history.

Unfortunately, by 1987 there were some sudden changes within the museum.  By the 10th Anniversary, and after seeing a grand total of 115,000 visitors over the span of a decade, there were those who felt that the museum needed to change.  As the historical society's newsletter states, they "removed things that were not strictly applicable to the Chinese Experience in the Delta and Locke itself" -- those removed items were said to be incorporated in the Delta History Gallery at the SRDHS office. "Attention is once again clearly focused on the Gambling Hall motif."

So, we do not know today what the SRDHS had originally displayed in the building. It seems as if perhaps at one point the museum actually had some relics and exhibits on display that showed there were others in Locke during its early days, but someone decided to "remove" those items. This was around same time period that Clarence Pratt resigned because of failing health of his wife, Emma. I wonder if some of the members waited until Clarence left to implement these changes?

By 1988, the newsletters mention that the second floor of the museum had to be closed due to a lack of fire escape and it had to do with insurance coverage. "The floor is spongy and needs repairs, the footing underneath the building needs replacement." Sadly, it appears the building is still in bad shape, the last time I was there I noticed the "spongy" floors and it's 2017, that was 29 years ago that this notation was published!

Clarence Pratt
1988 was the same year Clarence Pratt passed away as well.  Clarence was 85 years old. He grew up in Lodi, and worked on Dennis Leary's ranch as a carpenter and maintenance man for over 50 years. His obituary in the Lodi News Sentinel names him for the restoration effort to open the museum. He was interred in the Mausoleum at Lodi Memorial Cemetery alongside his wife, Emma.  To this day there is a plaque in the Dai Loy Museum honoring Clarence Pratt's efforts to the museum. You can see the photograph as you walk down the hall to the "Money Room."

The 1989 newsletters begin to mention Connie King as volunteering for special tours along with Carol Watson. I also found a notation that Senator John Garamendi (D) from Walnut Grove, had presented a "motion for a feasibility study to incorporate Locke into the State Parks System." It also adds that the motion passed by a unanimous vote.  The season total of visitors to the museum for 1989 was 9,000.

Between 1990-1992 we find changes to the newsletters' mentioning the museum. Where they once introduced each newsletter with positive comments about the museum and all the progress that had been made, by the early 1990's it seems there was a change in the wind. By June 1990, it mentions that an agreement had been made between the historical society and Clarence Chu (Locke Properties, Inc.) that Chu would take over the museum and staff it himself. It states the historical society would still remain responsible for the exhibits but that they would no longer be "involved" in the staffing of the museum.  The 1992 newsletters add that the "joint operation with Clarence Chu of  Asian City Development is working well. The museum building has been sold to the company with the provision that it remain a museum. The Society rents the artifacts to the corporation and the "complicated" arrangement seems to have everyone happy."

As time went on you find less and less mention of the museum since the historical society no longer ran it.  What has happened from 1992 to the present is anyone's guess, as I have yet to find anything in books or online documenting any changes or progress made. If by chance I do find it, I will post it here.

In ending this, I just wanted to give everyone a timeline of when the building became a museum, who was directly involved in the process and who helped keep it going over the years. In future posts I will be getting deeper into the stories of gambling, opium dens and of course the brothels in Locke. But today, I wanted to share with you all the information I discovered on the Dai Loy Museum's history.

(J'aime Rubio -- Copyright 2017 -

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