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Kim's is history

Ashtrays, autographed lampshades and a lot of memories were unearthed Friday as workers demolished Kim’s Restaurant in Medford.

“I’m just sorry to see another landmark go,” Medford historian Ben Truwe said. “It’s the landmarks that tie a community together.”

Truwe and Tina Reuwsaat, a curator for the Southern Oregon Historical Society, surveyed Kim’s Friday, searching for anything that could be saved.

They inspected signatures scrawled across little lampshades made of brass and a slightly charred cardboard material that prompted speculation about it being made partially of asbestos. Offering a glimpse into happier times at Kim’s, they read out the words “Linda Linda 1957,” “Ted Blair,” “Dorothy” and “4th anniversary.”

After Truwe and Reuwsaat took photos of the interior of the building, an excavator ripped away at exterior walls as if they were made of sand.

“It’s interesting when you tear down an old building,” said Richard McGinnis of Legacy Contracting Inc. “You find another, older building inside.”

McGinnis pointed to interior walls of a single-story building that was concealed by the exterior of the two-story Kim’s Restaurant, located at 2321 S. Pacific Highway.

The building is being torn down for the Coquille Indian Tribe, which has proposed building a casino at the neighboring Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley, which is still open. The tribe also has agreed to lease the nearby Bear Creek Golf Course.

The Coquille tribe has asked the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to place the 2.42-acre property, excluding the golf course, in a government trust. In addition, the Coquilles have asked the federal Office of Indian Gaming Management for an exception to a prohibition on gaming on lands acquired after October 1988.

The building has been vacant since May 2005, when restaurant operations ceased. Local firefighters have used the site for training exercises.

McGinnis said he hadn’t found any treasures in the building yet, though he did find a Mexican gold coin when he demolished an Orchard Home Drive home about a year ago. He said he gave the coin to the owner of the property.

Ashland historian George Kramer said he had hoped the Coquille tribe would have saved more artifacts from the building and incorporated them into the casino.

“It’s a shame,” he said.

Kim's, which the owners said meant “gold” in Chinese, reached its zenith in the mid-1980s with a staff of 135. 

The Chinese and American food restaurant was established in September 1950 by Henry and Betty Fong, Hang Papa and Sun Noon Moon Mama Lee, and Canton and Gene Lee Sheu. It was operated until May 31, 2005, when descendants of the founders decided to sell the business.

When they opened the restaurant, it served 60 customers a day. At its peak, it could serve more than 700 a day and had 15 cooks.

In an oral history available at the Southern Oregon Historical Society, Henry Fong said, “I don’t think there are any Chinese over 50 in the United States that doesn’t know how to cook. If you don’t know how to cook, you starved to death.”

Jackson County records indicate the original building dated to 1930 but was remodeled and expanded in the 1960s and 1970s.

Throughout its history, Kim’s was a popular hangout and the place where many locals got their first job.

Billie Taylor remembers Kim’s as a very busy place in the 1960s when she worked there along with her mother and sister.

It stayed open until 4 a.m., long after the bars closed, the 60-year-old Medford resident said.

“He did a killer business on food,” she said. “People wanted to eat after drinking at night.”

A lot of drivers in local stock car races also used to stop by late at night, said Taylor, who works at the Southern Oregon Historical Society.

Henry Fong, the owner of the restaurant, was good to high school students, offering them jobs and allowing them to fit their homework into their schedules, Taylor said.

She worked a 3 to 11 p.m. shift as a bus girl and filled in as waitress from time to time over a two-year period.

As to the famous pink sauce that was popular, Taylor said Fong kept the ingredients to himself.

“It was a secret back then,” she said, while throwing out her own theory about what made the sauce pink.

“I’m guessing it was ketchup.”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.

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Kim's restaurant is being torn down to make way for a proposed casino. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell
Tina Reuwsaat, associate curator of collections at the Southern Oregon Historical Society, photographs the interior of Kim's restaurant during its final hours. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell