The Story of the Junk Boat

by Karen Dea and Jeanne Chiang

original junk boat

Chinatown Playground Project Kickoff Dinner
Four Seas Restaurant, May 12, 1967
Milton Shoong, Dr. Joshua Fong, Joseph Lee, Harvey Binns,
Dr. Raymond Eng and Edward Hing

The story of our Junk Boat starts with a trans-Pacific voyage made by an oceangoing junk called the Free China which sailed from Formosa to San Francisco in 1955. In 1961, Dr. Joshua Fong wrote to the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco asking if the consul might know how the Wa Sung Service Club could obtain a junk boat similar to the Free China. The boat would be displayed in a park in Oakland -- perhaps even at a Chinese wharf in Lake Merritt as "a symbol of the determination and spirit of Free China and its people."

This idea evolved, and over the next few years, with the collaboration of the Oakland Parks and Recreation Department, a Junk Boat play structure was designed for Lincoln Park. Wa Sung raised over $15,000 to help huild the boat, and on Sunday, March 23, 1969 at 3:30 p.m., it was dedicated with a ceremony including fireworks and followed by a Chinese gourmet dinner at the Marco Polo Restaurant in Jack London Square.

For the next thirty years, the Junk Boat served as a focus for the playground, a symbol of the community, and a well used and loved play structure. However, the same passage of time was not kind to the boat which suffered wear, tear, and gradual deterioration. In 2001, a new generation of Wa Sung members met to rescue the Junk Boat. The boat was required to meet playground safety and accessibility standards by 2003 or was in danger of being torn down. The passing of long time member Stanley Huey in 2003 gave impetus to the project to commemorate the club's past leaders by renaming the playground area surrounding the junk boat as the "Wa Sung Community Service Club Play Area." Following the renaming would be the club's drive to renovate the boat for the enjoyment of future generations of children.

Junk Boat 1969

A steering committee of past presidents Jeanne Chiang, Karen Dea and Wayne Fong along with 2003 President Harry Greer met with City of Oakland elected officials and staff to decide how to save the boat. Wa Sung was supported by many other Chinatown organizations and members of the community who signed letters and petitions and attended meetings in support of the Junk Boat. Thirty four years after its dedication, again in collaboration with the Oakland Parks and Recreation Department, represented by Jim Ryugo, and with the support of Council Members Henry Chang Jr. and Danny Wan, funding sources were identified to help restore the Junk Boat.

The ending of the story of the Junk Boat is still in the future. Wa Sung's goal is to rededicate the Junk Boat in 2004-2005 so that children can play on it for another thirty years. Many tasks still need to be completed to realize this goal. The Wa Sung Community Service Club will spearhead a fundraising campaign so that the restoration can be fully funded. The City of Oakland is working to obtain state funds for the project and will hire consultants, designers and contractors to carry out the work. The community will be called upon to provide input into the design of the play area and to donate money to make the restoration of the Junk Boat a reality. The Marco Polo restaurant is gone, but we are looking forward to a rededication ceremony with fireworks followed by a Chinese gourmet dinner.

More on the  Junk Boat Restoration Project