At the banquet dinner June 14, the Chinatown Museum Foundation announced the donation of $666,000 by Mr. Raymond Lee and his wife to purchase a 4-storey brick building at 238 West 23rd Street, an important landmark in Chinatown history.
Built in 1896 as a drugstore, the building was already old when Chinatown moved to its present
location in the early 1920s. For the next 20 years its history is obscure. But in 1948, the building
was bought by father and sons of the Lee family. They made it the headquarters of the Quong
Yick Wholesale Trading Company, the second largest Chinese foodstuff wholesaler in the
Midwest. Quong Yick also made its own bean curd and grew its own bean sprouts in its
basement. The ground floor was for business while the upper floors served to warehouse
foodstuffs and provided temporary beds for staff members. Many of you must have shopped or
even worked at Quong Yick before it finally closed in 1997. The building was then sold to a
Chicago businessman with Chinatown roots, Jeffrey Moy.
One of the workers at Quong Yick was the son of a Lee family shareholder, Raymon. In 1950, when he was 15 years old, this boy came to Chicago from China. He immediately began to work at Quong Yick. He was not pampered. For the next ten years he spent his time preparing bean curb in the basement, moving stock on the upper floors, serving customers on the ground floor, and preparing meals for his uncles and cousins. In spite of this, he also managed to finish high school and then college, graduating in 1960 with a degree in finance and business administration from the University of Illinois Navy Pier Campus. He soon put his education to good use, first at Quong Yick, then at companies outside Chicago, and finally in Chicago again as the head of the largest East Asian food importing company in the Midwest.
The Chinatown Museum Foundation was established in 2002 with very little money but a lot of enthusiasm for documenting the history of Chinese Americans in Chicago and other parts of the Midwest. The Foundation operated without a base and was desperately in need of a home. By coincidence, Moy was trying to sell the old Quong Yick building. He offered it to the Foundation at the price of $660,000.
The building will be named after Mr. Raymond Lee in memory of the donor and his wife. Chicago's Chinatown is now the home of the first Chinese American museum between the East and West Coasts.