Hillcrest’s American Dream

Tung Ling Wong, better known as “Jimmy” and his wife Annie Up Wong, immigrated to the United Sates in the late 1940s and created a new life for themselves on University Avenue near Fourth.

Soon after their immigration Jimmy gained employment as a waiter at the Chinese Village restaurant in downtown San Diego. Within a few years, the Wong’s invested their savings of $3,000 in a Hillcrest restaurant. It was the right move for the Wongs.

Opened in 1955, Jimmy Wong’s Golden Dragon became the premier Chinese restaurant in town. Jimmy’s talents extended beyond that of a running a restaurant. He designed the registered historic landmark neon dragon on the outside of the building. He also designed and painted the large golden dragon that once spanned the length of the ceiling.

Many generations of neighborhood Hillcrestians and prominent San Diegans have been regular diners at the restaurant rubbing elbows with celebrities including Marilyn Monroe, Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal and Frank Sinatra just to name a few. The wide mix of regulars dined until 3am, 363 days a year, closing only on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Jimmy and Annie’s son Gary summed it up when he spoke for the 2003 Uptown Historic Oral History Report. “I think the thing I am most proud of, and I think the restaurant is typical of this, is that (it) exemplifies what my parents’ lives were. They were immigrants that came here to realize the American Dream, and through their hard work and perseverance, and a lot of luck too, they grasped the opportunity that materialized within this restaurant. It truly is an immigrant story that is exactly how you want it to turn out.”

The restaurant was sold in 2006 and now operates as the Asian Bistro however the neon dragon remains on guard at the entrance to this Hillcrest landmark.

First published in HillQuest, an Urban Guide to 92103 & Beyond, volume 5

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