In 1884, two years after the Northern Pacific founded the town of Billings, a one-story wooden grocery store stood on this site. Twelve years later, the corner of Minnesota and Twenty-seventh boasted one of the South Side's first brick buildings. The exuberant sheet-metal cornice and cast-iron storefront, manufactured in Minneapolis, mark the building as a product of the railroad era. Such large architectural elements could only be shipped by train. Other architectural decoration includes rough-cut sandstone sills and segmented brick arches with sandstone keystones accenting the windows. As was typical of the era, the rear of the building and the east wall designed to abut a neighboring building are much plainer than the building's public faces. In 1896, Chinese immigrant Sam Lee purchased the two-story brick business block, where he opened a restaurant with his brother Yee. They called the restaurant L and L for Lee and Lee. By 1900, the Lees had converted the restaurant into a liquor and cigar store. Upstairs they offered "nicely furnished rooms," advertising their lodging house as "first class … good as a bank." Residents of the integrated lodging house included both Lee brothers, four other Chinese men two waiters, a dishwasher, and a cook, a white stockman from Texas, and a white waitress from California. Sam Lee owned several other buildings in the area, which became known as China Alley. During Prohibition, the alley became a center of bootlegging and gained a reputation for crime. However, tales of secret tunnels and opium dens may owe more to fantasy than reality.