Prominent restaurant owner, Yee Bong, was a real Nevadan
Special to the Nevada Appeal
Carson City history wouldn’t be complete without Yee Bong. Yee Bong, one of western Nevada’s best-known “Celestials” died at the county hospital shortly after being struck by a car in December 1941. Bong, 80, had tried to cross the street between two parked vehicles. The driver of the other car was unable to stop, thus striking him. He had no surviving relatives.
I found Bong’s story while researching the final story in this series of what Carson City was like in December 1941. Instead, we have Bong ” a real Nevadan.
Bong was born July 16, 1861, in Virginia City and was a friend of many of the most prominent men in Nevada having been a cook on the Comstock, Carson City and Lake Tahoe. Bong was the last in a handful of Chinese left from the Comstock era, one of nine left in Carson City.
I met Yee Bong’s “image” while surfing for photos for the story on Carson City’s Chinatown during the summer. His smiling face from a University of California Web site immediately made me want to know him. For the following days I’d hoped that Carson City’s Chinatown still existed, so I could go open the door at Bong’s restaurant and walk in to meet the man who served so many for so long. But like the V&T Railroad Roundhouse, some things just go away. I may not like it, but that’s just the way it is.
Growing up here, my dad, Bill Dolan, liked Chinese food. So, routinely we would drive up to Lynn Leong’s Sharon House in Virginia City where as a boy, I’d gaze at the many black and white photos of the Comstock and the color portraits of Comstock greats such as William Sharon. It was in that second story restaurant that I was indoctrinated to history and great Chinese food. It really didn’t matter the day of the week or the year ” the Sharon House consistently provided good fresh food at a reasonable price. Leong eventually closed the Sharon House; in my memory the closure had something to do with having to bring the building up to code in an age of fire suppression systems after the MGM catastrophe in Las Vegas in 1980. What a loss.
And I suppose my father grew accustomed to good Chinese food while working at the Appeal. In the ’40s it was across the street from one Chinese restaurant, Chung Hi’s, and a block away from Yee Bong’s. The Appeal building at that time was directly across from the Capitol.
I never could understand my dad’s affinity for the Chinese. By the time I was young, I had a good Chinese friend when we lived on Robinson Street, and an American friend of Japanese descent when I was growing up on Molly Drive. So, it was just normal. Oriental things were normal in our house. Two Siamese cats named Yin and Yang. So, Chinese is as about Nevadan to me as, well, Nevada. It’s part of the history of this place.
When I came around in 1956, Carson really hadn’t changed a great deal. Then there was Bonanza: People started coming to see Virginia City; Nevada Day was the magnet that brought all of Nevada to one place; the Carson Nugget was built; Bill Green started building houses. Vegas became Vegas; People like John Ascuaga connected gaming with people.
I can honestly say that writing my father’s column after he passed was not one of my most favorite things to do. I remember quite clearly dad saying that I didn’t have to do it if I didn’t want to. When the Appeal asked us to do this column last year, I said yes under the influence of a cold, not realizing how incredible an experience it has been for me as part of the anniversary of Carson.
There are many incredible Nevadans, and native Yee Bong was just one of them. On behalf of my sister, Sue Ballew and myself, thank you for allowing us the privilege to be part of the 150th anniversary of Carson City. This column may appear from time to time as space and interest allows, but you will always find us in “Past Pages.”
* Trent Dolan is the son of Bill Dolan, who wrote a column for the Nevada Appeal from 1947 until his death in 2006.