Remembering Phil Choy (1926-2017)

In Loving Memory of Philip P. Choy

December 17, 1926 – March 16, 2017


It is with profound sadness that CHSA acknowledges the passing of architect and historian Philip P. Choy on March 16, 2017.

Phil tirelessly devoted himself to research, preservation and education of Chinese American history. Together with the late Him Mark Lai, Phil taught the first Chinese American history course at San Francisco State University. Course material he co-authored, The History of The Chinese in California, A Syllabus, is a well-respected publication that is repeatedly referenced today. In the early 1970s, Phil hosted the groundbreaking PBS series Gum Saan Haak, The Chinese of America, the first extensive documentary series about Chinese American history.

His passing is a great loss for the community. Phil was an activist. He challenged the organizers of the Transcontinental Railroad Centennial in 1969 to recognize the role of Chinese laborers in its completion. Known for his preservation work, he submitted the case report for Angel Island Immigration Station which resulted in it being listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In Oroville, California, Phil designed the Temple Tapestry Hall to complement the adjacent historic Chinese temple and to house its extensive Chinese folk art collection.


Phil’s work and scholarship were truly commendable. Phil served as consultant and advisor for many projects, exhibitions, and media presentations on the Chinese American experience. Particular favorites of Phil’s were the life-size diorama of Chinese railroad workers at the Sacramento Railroad Museum, and the Chinese Pioneers exhibit at the Federal Courthouse. He also mentored the next generation of scholars through his position as an adjunct professor of San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Program.

Phil’s innumerable accomplishments included:

  • Together with Him Mark Lai, co-taught the nation’s first college-level Chinese American history course for the History Department at San Francisco State (Fall 1969)
  • Commemorating Chinese railroad workers at the Transcontinental Railroad Centennial at Promontory Point (1969)
  • Angel Island Immigration Station Historical Advisory Committee (1974-84)
  • Chinatown Neighborhood Improvement Center, Board of Directors (1980-83)
  • Chinese Community Housing Corporation, Board of Directors (1982-84)
  • Chinese Historical Society of America, Board Emeritus (President 1969-71, 1990-92, 1997)
  • Ethnic Council of America, State Department of Education (1979-81)
  • San Francisco Landmark Advisory Board (1978-88)
  • State Historical Resources Commission (2001)

Phil and his late wife Sarah (1925 – 2015) were both very generous in their support of Chinatown activities and fundraising efforts, often recruiting other family members to help. He donated much of his time to the Chinatown YWCA, helping them to secure landmark status for the YWCA’s Julia Morgan-designed building. His work would come full-circle, as he would later support CHSA’s acquisition of the building. CHSA made the Chinatown YWCA building its permanent home and opened its Museum and Learning Center in 2001. He served as CHSA’s Board President (1969-71) and as a long-serving Board member (1990-92, 1997).

We will miss Phil’s contributions but more importantly, his friendship. He was always ready to give us his unconditional support and share his humor and wisdom. We will remember his humbleness, generosity, and devotion to humanity.

Details of Philip Choy’s memorial service will be shared with the public as soon as they are confirmed by the family.

The entire Board, staff and extended community of the Chinese Historical Society of America expresses its deepest condolences to the Choy family.


Original statement emailed by CHSA on Saturday, March 18, 2017

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