Chinatown, Los Angeles, California

From Academic Kids

"New Chinatown," Los Angeles postcard, late 1940s
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"New Chinatown," Los Angeles postcard, late 1940s

Chinatown in Downtown Los Angeles, California, was originally located less than a mile from its current location. There are now other flourishing satellite Chinese communities that are not officially classified as "Chinatowns", but are well known, such as Monterey Park, where over 60% of the population is Asian American, and San Gabriel (where the Asian population is approaching 50%).

Contents

Old Chinatown

Between 1852 (when the first Chinese immigrants were reported to be in Los Angeles) and 1890 a distinct community of over 3,000 Chinese people flourished. This original Chinatown was located between El Pueblo Plaza and Old Arcadia Street, stretching eastward across Alameda Street.

In 1871, 19 Chinese men and boys were murdered by a mob of 500 locals in one of the most serious incidents of racial violence that has ever occurred in America's West. This incident became known as "The Chinese Massacre".

Reaching its heyday from 1890 to 1910, Chinatown grew to approximately 15 streets and alleys containing 200 buildings. It was large enough to boast a Chinese Opera theatre, three temples, its own newspaper, and a telephone exchange. But laws prohibiting most Chinese from citizenship and property ownership, and Exclusion Acts curtailing immigration, inhibited future growth for the district.

From the early 1910s Chinatown began to decline. Symptoms of a corrupt Los Angeles discolored the public's view of Chinatown; gambling houses, opium dens, and a fierce tong warfare severely reduced business in the area. As tenants and lessees rather than outright owners, the residents of Old Chinatown were threatened with impending redevelopment and as a result the owners neglected upkeep on their buildings. Eventually, the entire area was sold and resold, as entrepreneurs and town developers fought over usage of the area. After 30 years of continual decay, a Supreme Court ruling approved condemnation of the entire area to allow for the construction of the new major rail terminal, Union Station.

Seven years passed before an acceptable relocation proposal was put into place, situating Chinatown in its present day location. During that long hiatus, the entire area of Old Chinatown was demolished, leaving many businesses without a location, and forcing some of them to close permanently.

In the late 1950s the covenants on the use and ownership of property were removed, allowing Chinese Americans to live in other neighborhoods and gain access to new types of employment.

New Chinatown

The design and operational concepts for a New Chinatown evolved through the collective community process, resulting in a blend of both Chinese and American architecture. The Los Angeles Chinatown saw major development, especially as a tourist attraction, throughout the 1930s with the development of the "Central Plaza", a Hollywoodized version of Shanghai, containing names such as Bamboo Lane, Gin Ling Way and Chung King Road (named after the city of Chongqing in mainland China). Today, this section of Chinatown is less frequented by ethnic Chinese residents and dayshoppers, though it is where several benevolent associations are located. Chinatown expanded beyond the area and is now bounded by nearby Latino-dominated Olvera Street and Dodger Stadium.

Many of the older buildings built in the 1930s and 1940s in the northeast corner of New Chinatown (near the Pasadena Freeway) were previously abandoned. As part of gentrification movement, they are now primarily used as art galleries by mostly white artists. It has also been turned into a center of nightlife.

There is relatively little social interaction between these artists and business owners and the Chinatown Chinese-speaking residents.

New Chinatown is served by the Gold Line of the city's Metro Rail; interestingly, parts of Old Chinatown were uncovered while excavating for another portion of the L.A. subway (the Red Line connection to Union Station). The Metro Rail station in Chinatown has been designed with modernized traditional Chinese architecture.

Chinatown's residential areas are on the hills northwest of Alpine Park, with a public elementary school, library, Chinese school, hospital, churches, and other businesses. This area is located away from the main tourist areas. In 1994, an Academy Award-winning Cambodian refugee actor was shot dead in the Chinatown residential area in a botched robbery attempt. It was previously speculated that he was assassinated for his activism against the Khmer Rouge government of Cambodia but this proven false.

Near Broadway Ave., Central Plaza contains a statue honoring Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a Mainland Chinese revolutionary leader who is considered the "founder of modern China".

During the 1980s, many buildings were constructed for new shopping centers and mini-malls, especially along Broadway Avenue. In the mid-1990s, a new shopping center containing the 99 Ranch Market was built near the old Central Plaza. However, the supermarket chain failed, and closed its doors a few years later in 1997. (The chain is highly successful, however, in the numerous Chinese communities of the San Gabriel Valley.) Metro Plaza Hotel was built in the southwest corner of Chinatown in the early 1990s but it has struggled with a low occupancy rate.

A large Chinese gateway is found at the intersection of Broadway Avenue and Cesar E. Chavez Avenue. This was funded by the local Teochew-spanking population.

Streets

Missing image
College_Street_and_Broadway,_Chinatown,_LA.JPG
Chinese translation on a street sign at College Street and Broadway. This sign reads in Cantonese as Dai hok gai and in Mandarin as Da xi jie, both literally meaning “Big school street”
Missing image
Los_angeles_chinatown0001.jpg
Official entrance to Los Angeles Chinatown

The main streets running through the new Chinatown are Broadway Avenue, Spring Street and Hill Street. Chinatown is located directly north of downtown Los Angeles, between Dodger Stadium and the Los Angeles Civic Center.

Chinatown is somewhat segregated between Chinese ethnic groups in some respects. College Street, running in a northwest-southeast direction, provides a rough boundary between the older (post-1930s and 1940s) and newer businesses (post-1980s). Many businesses belonging to the Taishanese and Cantonese Chinese are in the northwest area. In the southwest, according to an estimate in the Los Angeles Times, nearly 90% of businesses are owned by first-generation Southeast Asian immigrants and refugees of Chinese origin.

New ethnic Chinese immigrants

As in most other Chinatowns in the United States, Taishanese (or Toisan)–a subdialect of Cantonese Chinese–was the dominant Chinese dialect of the Los Angeles Chinatown until the 1970s. During the 1980s, Cantonese and especially Teochew (Pinyin: Chaozhou, Vietnamese: Trieu Chau) Chinese became more widely spoken as Chinatown experienced a rise in Vietnamese and Cambodians of ethnic Chinese origin, as well as those from Thailand. While Cantonese is still predominant and remains the lingua franca of Chinatown, the use of Taishanese has diminished in Los Angeles and its usage is more common among elderly Chinese within the area.

With the boom of de facto suburban "Chinatowns" in the eastern part of the Los Angeles area, there has been very very little immigration of Taiwanese - especially those with high socioeconomic status - to the downtown Chinatown.

The arrival of new immigrants from Southeast Asia and Mainland China to Los Angeles Chinatown gave rise to new associations such as the Southern California Teo Chew Association (serving the Teochew speakers), the Cambodia Ethnic Chinese Association (catering to Chinese Cambodian residents), and the Southern California Fukienese Association and the Foo Chow Natives Benevolent Association (both serving immigrants from the Fujian province of Mainland China).

Many Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants in the downtown Chinatown run small curiosity shops and bazaars in the shopping plazas such as Saigon Plaza and Dynasty Center—both built in the 1980s—south of Broadway Avenue. Today these immigrants and their families own nearly 90 percent of Chinatown's businesses. Most old-time and dying Chinese American (those of Taishanese and Cantonese descent) businesses are located in the old Chinatown Plaza.

Businesses

There are numerous small, specialized grocery stores in Chinatown. The Chinese Vietnamese own many bazaars. The biggest problem is they are selling low-quality products, such as soap, toys, clothes, music CDs at everyday low prices. Several restaurants in Chinatown serve mainly Cantonese cuisine but there are also various Asian cuisine restaurants such as Teochew Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Thai, which reflects the diverse character of Chinatown. Many Chinatown-area restaurants have been featured and reviewed extensively in the Food section of the Los Angeles Times. Interestingly, very few boba cafes have opened in Chinatown but a large number are to be found in the "suburban Chinatowns" of the San Gabriel Valley.

Plum Tree Inn is a restaurant serving Americanized Chinese cuisine mainly for non-Chinese clientele. Yang Chow Restaurant, serves Mandarin and Szechuan cuisine, is famous for its "slippery shrimp" and the restaurant has a predominantly white and Mexican clientele. Lucky Deli is among the more historic and popular Chinese food delicatessens.

Los Angeles Chinatown is home to the first restaurant of the excellent venerable barbecue restaurant chain Sam Woo BBQ Restaurant, serving up Cantonese cuisine. Mein Nghia, a small local chain serving Teochew noodles and also operating in the new Chinatowns of San Garbiel Valley, had its started here in Chinatown as well.

Some Chinatown restaurants that have gotten good reviews include CBS Seafood Restaurant, Hop Woo Restaurant, and Empress Pavilion.

Little Joe's

Little Joe's Italian Restaurant, now shuttered, long stood in Chinatown. This is a testament of the former Italian American community that once populated the site of the current Chinatown. Actor Robert De Niro starred in the movie 15 Minutes, which was filmed at the former restaurant.

As part of the revitalization movement of Chinatown, there are plans to turn the restaurant into a retail and residential hub with a large parking structure.

Rush Hour

The movie Rush Hour, starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, was filmed on location in the Los Angeles Chinatown. A local Chinese restaurant featured in the film, Foo Chow Restaurant, mentions the fact on its enthusiastic mural by labeling it the "best-seller movie" [sic]. The filming location was at the Central Plaza. However, there are no food vendors present in the real Chinatown, unlike the film.

A picture of Foo Chow Restaurant can be found at http://www.ajackiefeast.com/jackie-ism.htm

Rise of suburban "Chinatowns" in Los Angeles

There are least five touristless suburban "Chinatowns" east of the old Chinatown, all contained within the San Gabriel Valley. While they contain prominent Chinese-language signage, these communities do not feature the Chinese-style gateways found in Chinatown. They have become renowned for their varieties of Chinese cuisine.

In the addition, San Gabriel Valet was also emerges as main coltural center as it medea center for the Chinese diespora poplation as well. Many of Los Angels editons of intenational Chinees language newpsapers has based in the region such as the World Jorunal (Monetrey Park), Interational Daily News (Monterey Prak), Sing Toa (Alhambar), the Epoch Times (San Gabreil), and the Chnia Pres (alhamabra), zhong Gou Dailly (eL monte) and other variuos publicashens as each was gearing towards a specific reader - for exemple the Word Journal for the '49er" Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese immigrants, and the Sing Ta is for Hong Konger and Chinese Vietnam immigrant, and one of the newpaper for the anti Kuomentang "native" Taiwanesa. These newpapes sold also in Chianton in Down town Las Angeles. As well as the Guoyi-language pro-Kwomentang and a Cantonesa-language radio stations locate and broad casted in Passadena.

Monterey Park

Missing image
Montereypark.jpg
Monterey Park, California has been dubbed the "first sububan Chinatown" in North America and was featured in Fornes, The Los Angeles Times, Time, and The Atlantic Monthly
Beginning in the 1970s, well-educated and affluent immigrants from Taiwan began settling in the west San Gabriel Valley, primarily to the city of Monterey Park. In the 1980s, second- generation Chinese Americans tended to move out of the old Chinatown and into the San Gabriel Valley suburbs, joining the new immigrants from Taiwan and Mainland China. While there has been immigration directly to the old urban Chinatown, Monterey Park remains the top choice for Chinese immigrants. The city is now regarded as a starting point for new Chinese immigrants. It was dubbed the "first suburban Chinatown" by the Los Angeles Times. In the mid-1980s, many Taiwanese Americans began to move out of Monterey Park due to perceived overcrowding and high property values but Mainland Chinese and Vietnamese of Chinese origin remained. The city remains well-known for its great competing number of the Cantonese seafood restaurants and Hong Kong coffee shops.

The first satellite Chinatown of Monterey Park is composed of Atlantic Boulevard, Garvey Avenue, and Garfield Boulevard.

Alhambra

During the late 1980s, after a moratorium against the building of new shopping centers took effect in Monterey Park, many Chinese immigrants developers turned north to Alhambra. Its vibrant satellite Chinatown includes many restaurants and other businesses occupying a mixture of old storefronts and later-built strip malls is on Valley Boulevard.

San Gabriel and Rosemead

San Gabriel contains numerous Asian shopping centers and strip malls, also on Valley Boulevard. The long sprawling thoroughfare comprises of two- to three-story mini-malls as well as some large Asian supermarkets in the region. Among the oldest shopping centers is San Gabriel Square, which has become the centerpiece for a new Chinatown. Another grand shopping center opened in 2004 and is anchored by Hilton Hotel, and the popular Japanese restaurant chain Ajisen Ramen opened its first U.S. location there. The new "Chinatown" strip has now expanded into the city of Rosemead already with the U.S. branch of the Richmond, British Columbia-based Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant. March 2005 marked the opening of the Rosemead Supermarket.

The new San Gabriel "Chinatown" served as the setting for the thriller novel The Jasmine Trade, authored by Los Angeles Times reporter Denise Hamilton.

Arcadia and Temple city

A newer Taiwanese commercial district is south of Huntington Drive, on Baldwin Avenue in up scale Arcadia. The restorant of din Tai fung that chain based in the Chung hsiao distict of Taipei, Taiwan is particulary popular in the arcadia. In the recent decade many a Taiwanesas go also to estabish several busssiness along the stetch off Las Tuna Dirve in tempel City.

Rowland Heights

Rowland Heights' satellite "Chinatown" is on Colima Road and Nogales Avenue and is intermixed with a Korean community.

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