By Arianne Wing
As I have written in previous columns, Hanford was home to the first Chinese herb shop in the San Joaquin Valley. Lok Ting Sue founded his herb company over one hundred years ago. As the story goes, Sue Chung Kee brought Dr. L.T. Sue (no relation) to Hanford to cure his ailing grandson, Laurence Sue. Word of L.T. Sue’s success with the young boy spread. At first his patients were only the Chinese living in Hanford, but soon Dr. Sue found himself treating many others in Hanford and outlying areas who were not Chinese. Word of the efficacy of Dr. Sue’s herbal medicine spread, and the L.T. Sue Herb Company became a thriving success. It was the first and longest surviving herb company in the San Joaquin Valley.
In the mid-1950s, the L.T. Sue Herb Company closed its doors, but the building still stands today. The two-story brick building is characterized by symmetry of engaged piers at the corners of the building, and a wooden second-floor balcony. The verticality of the piers is offset by the double border of bricks along the flat roof. The second floor has a central door flanked by two windows. All three openings have brick sills are crowned with decorative brick arches.
During the 1960s and 1970s my family purchased the remaining China Alley properties that sat vacant, including the L.T. Sue Herb Co. building, in hopes of saving them from bulldozers. In 2007, my family donated the Herb Co. building to the China Alley Preservation Society. The passage of time and weather have not been kind to the building. The first step the Preservation Society had was to remove nine tons — yes nine tons — of avian residue. I can’t begin to explain the kind of damage that amount of bird droppings can do.
This task complete, the Society, working with an architect and contractor well versed in historic preservation, structurally stabilized the second-story portion of the building. There weren’t enough funds to reroof the building, so tarps were secured over the roof, repeatedly replaced over the years and buckets strategically placed when it rained.
After last winter’s heavy rains, we knew the roof on the Herb Co. building had to be fixed or building would be lost. The roof structure is, for the most part, impossible to see from the interior. Our contractor shored up the roof, and the next step is to pull down the ceiling’s wood boards so we can see the structure above and the configuration and condition of the roof framing. If all goes well with the removals, we will be able to see and determine the roof structure and the best approach for repairs and the ultimate replacement of the roofing material to keep the rain (and pigeons) out.
I write my columns well ahead of the publishing date. I like to have time to let the words settle so I can edit. I typed the last paragraph, and sat back. Next thing I knew, the wildest storm blew in. Trees were blown down, crops flattened, and more rain was on the way. Steve and I rushed to the Alley and into the Herb Co. building.
It wasn’t as horrifying as going to the Temple Museum after the arson. I was well aware of the state of the roof and had mentally and emotionally prepared myself for the possible loss of the historic building. Still, tears ran down my cheeks as I watched rain pour over the herb cabinets.
Our contractor was to begin the ceiling removal the following Monday. I have no idea what is happening next. I will keep you posted.
Oh L.T. Sue Herb Co. building. May you live forever.
After the storm passes, we will return to our summer weather and the richness of our gardens. As always, I try to focus on abundance even when the loss looms, and so I’m sharing a recipe that honors the summer bounty. Zucchini Butter Spaghetti is a simple summer dinner bliss. Enjoy!
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