Chinatown in Los Angeles, California is a Chinatown in Downtown Los Angeles that was founded in the late 1800s. It was originally located less than a mile from its current location where Union Station is located.
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 "Chinese Massacre of 1871".
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. Nonetheless, it is not commonly known that a remnant of Old Chinatown persisted into the early 1950s, situated between Union Station and the Old Plaza. A narrow, one-block street known as Ferguson Alley ran between the Plaza and Alameda, and was the location of a Buddhist temple and several businesses.
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.
"The original Chinatown's only remaining edifice is the two-story Garnier Building, once a residence and meeting place for immigrant Chinese," according to Angels Walk – Union Station/El Pueblo/Little Tokyo/Civic Center guide book. The Chinese American Museum is now located in Garnier Building.
In the 1930s, under the efforts of Chinese American community leader Peter Soo Hoo Sr., 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). Chinatown was designed by Hollywood film set designers and a "Chinese" movie prop was subsequently donated by the legendary film director Cecil B. DeMille to give Chinatown an exotic atmosphere. 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 Olvera Street and Dodger Stadium.
On June 28, 2008, a celebration of the 1938 founding of New Chinatown was held with the L.A. Chinatown 70th Anniversary Party.
While L.A. Chinatown generally does not have the activity of North America's largest Chinese community—Chinatown, San Francisco—it still attracts visitors from throughout the Los Angeles area and the world. However, there are many businesses in Chinatown that generally cater mainly to the local community rather than the tourism economy.
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 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. Many elderly residents usually lounge in the court of Central Plaza. The historic Hop Sing Tong Society is located in Central Plaza, as are several other Chinatown lodges and guilds.
New Chinatown is served by the Gold Line of the city's Metro Rail; parts of Old Chinatown were uncovered during excavation 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. In the mornings at Alpine Recreation Center, many Chinese-speaking old-timers practice the relaxing martial arts tai chi, a scene common in many Chinatowns.
This area is located away from the main tourist areas. In 1994, an Academy Award-winning Cambodian refugee actor Haing S. Ngor was shot dead in the Chinatown residential area in a botched robbery attempt by Asian gang members. It was previously speculated that he was assassinated for his activism against the Khmer Rouge government of Cambodia but this proven false.
Near Broadway, Central Plaza contains a statue honoring Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a Mainland Chinese revolutionary leader who is considered the "founder of modern China". This unique monument was erected in the 1960s by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.
During the 1980s, many buildings were constructed for new shopping centers and mini-malls, especially along Broadway, and this would expand Chinatown greatly. 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 and Cesar E. Chavez Avenue. This was funded by the local Teochew-speaking population.
The main streets running through the new Chinatown are Broadway, Spring Street and Hill Street. Chinatown is located directly north of downtown Los Angeles, between Dodger Stadium and the Los Angeles Civic Center. The Broadway side of Chinatown is usually packed with a myriad of tourists, with a lot of Chinese restaurants and merchants.
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 original American-born Chinese families (Taishanese and Cantonese Chinese) are in the northwest area. Also due to the stylized exotic atmosphere, this section of Chinatown is very popular for on-site movie filming, such as Rush Hour with Jackie Chan. 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.
As in most other Chinatowns in the United States, Taishanese (or Toisan)–a subdialect of Cantonese–was the dominant Chinese dialect of the Los Angeles Chinatown until the 1970s. In post-Vietnam War 1970s, some members of the Los Angeles lodge of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association headed to the Vietnamese refugee settlements in Camp Pendelton to talk and entice several refugees - especially ethnic Chinese from Vietnam - into settling into the once-diminishing Chinatown by sponsoring them. Thus, 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 and Thais. 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 Chinese communities in the eastern part of the Los Angeles area, there have been very few immigrants from the Republic of China - especially those with high socioeconomic status - to the downtown Chinatown. Mandarin is only used in some contexts in Chinatown and is not widely spoken there.
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), the Camau Association of America (service immigrants from the Camau Province of Vietnam), 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. 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.
There are numerous small, specialized grocery stores in Chinatown. The Chinese Vietnamese own many bazaars. The stores sell 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. Few boba cafes have opened in Chinatown, but a large number are to be found in the "suburban Chinatowns" of the San Gabriel Valley.
TS Emporium and Wing Hop Fung are stores selling ginseng and herbs as well as other household merchandises are operated within the confinement of this particular Chinatown, and branches of these stores also operate in Monterey Park.
Dynasty Center, Saigon Plaza, and the Chinatown Phuoc Loc Tho Center feature many Vietnamese-style bazaars with people engaged in bargain shopping for items such as clothing, toys, Chinese-language CDs, pets, household items, funerary products, and so on. Its entrepreneurs are ethnic Chinese from Vietnam and most customers are Vietnamese Chinese, ethnic Vietnamese, Mexicans, and gwai lo.
Chinatown offers the usual barbecue delicatessens - with glass displays of roast duck and suckling pig - and Cantonese seafood restaurants with dim sum. Owing to its large Vietnamese influence, there are many eateries in Chinatown offering Vietnamese pho noodle soup and submarine sandwiches called banh mi as well.
Plum Tree Inn is a restaurant serving Americanized Chinese cuisine mainly for non-Chinese clientele. Yang Chow Restaurant serves very Americanized Mandarin and Szechuan cuisine and is famous for its "slippery shrimp". The restaurant has a predominantly white and Mexican clientele. Lucky Deli is among the more historic and popular Chinese food delicatessens, offering Chinese food at bargain prices.
Los Angeles Chinatown is home to the first restaurant of the 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 Gabriel Valley, had its start here in Chinatown as well. There are also a number of bakeries operating in Chinatown, such as Queen's Bakery and the much older Phoenix Bakery. While owned by ethnic Chinese, these are also attracting Spanish-speaking customers.
Some Chinatown restaurants that have gotten good reviews include CBS Seafood Restaurant, Hop Woo Restaurant, Ocean Seafood Restaurant, and Empress Pavilion. Both CBS Seafood Restaurant and Empress Pavilion are usually pack with customers waiting for a table for dim sum. Hop Woo, while touristy in atmosphere with Chinese lanterns and with waitresses dressed in cheongsam attire, offers both authentic and Americanized Chinese dishes and attracts diversity of customers - white, African American, Mexican and Filipino - as well as Chinese-speaking ones. Ocean Seafood Restaurant has been Zagat Rated for six consecutive years, and it is widely known for its dim sum.
There are over 20 art galleries to see, mostly featuring non-Chinese modern art, with works from up and coming artists in all types of media. Popular galleries include Acuna-Hansen Gallery, Black Dragon Society, China Art Objects, and The Gallery at General Lee's. Spaces such as Telic Art Exchange, Betalevel and The Mountain Bar often have readings, performances and lectures.
Little Joe's Italian American Restaurant, now shuttered, has long stood in Chinatown, at the corner of Broadway and College Street. 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.
Little Joe's began in 1908 as the Italian-American Grocery company by John Nuccio, an Italian immigrant. When Italy sided badly in the war, many Italian businesses changed their names - Bank of Italy became Bank of America, and the Italian-American Grocery Company became Little Joe's. Little Joe's is not affiliated to any other restaurant that subsequently took the same name.
Robert Nuccio retired in 1922 and sold the business to his best friend, John Gadeschi. John's daughter Marion ended up marrying John Albert Nuccio (Robert's son) who went to work at the restaurant after his stint in WWII, and the business was back in the Nuccio family and remained there until it closed in 1998.
Most recently, the restaurant was operated by the third generation of Nuccio men: Steve, Bob and Jay. Jay went off on his own to The Crazy Horse, an Orange County (now West Covina) country-and-western bar/eatery. That left Steve (the eldest) and Bob (the youngest son) to operate Little Joe's.
The restaurant closed in December 1998. The owners, having waited for a revitalization of Chinatown and downtown as a night-time dining destination, decided ultimately that a good run had been had by all and that it was time to retire. With the revitalization of Old Pasadena, it became more and more difficult for downtown establishments to compete at dinner time.
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. However, very little construction activity has yet to take place at Little Joe's and other proposals for other buildings on the intersection of Broadway and College Street in Chinatown has not turned into action yet.
Residents in Chinatown are zoned to Los Angeles Unified School District schools:
Los Angeles Public Library operates the Chinatown Branch.
There are now other flourishing satellite Chinese communities in the Greater Los Angeles Area that are not officially classified as "Chinatowns", but are well known, such as Monterey Park, where over 60 percent of the population is Asian American, Alhambra, Arcadia, and San Gabriel (where the Asian population is approaching 50 percent).