Saturday, January 15, 2011

LA Chinatown

Once we arrived and checked in the hotel, we all decided to shake the travel stiffness out by a walk (a long walk) through LA's Chinatown. The stores had the same sort of merchandise that you can find in SF's Chinatown - herbs and teas for every kind of human condition - you can cure your gall bladder disease, men can replenish their "vitality," cure pimples, cholesterol and of course, the ubiquitous teas for slimming. There were shelves of garish tourist junk, prepared food and restaurants - even acupuncture clinics and a Chinese center for elders.Many shops were closing up for the night which I found surprising. SF's Chinatown goes 24/7 but this place looked like they rolled up the sidewalks at sunset. Still, we didn't have the time to explore the place thoroughly and I'd love to go back. Some of the older and smaller courtyards looked fascinating and who knows what unknown treasures lurk in the shadows. After all, it's Chinatown.

@ Anna Conti - used with permission. 
Fifty years ago on the sunny Saturday of June 25, 1938, California's Governor Merriam and a host of dignitaries dedicated Los Angeles Chinatown's Central Plaza in a gala Grand Opening ceremony. 

Originally, New Chinatown consisted of many notable restaurants, shops, an herbal store, a grocery store, a bean cake factory, a Chinese deli and offices. In 1938, these long-time establishments were all moved from Los Angeles' Old Chlnatown, not quite a mile away. What led to this sudden mass relocation into Los Angeles' Little Italy, and the need for establishing a new Chinatown?

The first Chinese was recorded to be in Los Angeles in 1852. Continuous settlement began in 1857. By 1870, an identifiable "Chinatown" of 200 or so was situated on Calle de Los Negros - Street of the Dark Hued Ones - a short alley 50 feet wide and one block long between El Pueblo Plaza and Old Arcadia Street. These early, mostly male, Chinese were mainly laundrymen, market gardeners, agricultural and ranch workers, and road builders. Despite the heavy discrimination in the late 19th century, Chinese held a dominant economic position in the Los Angeles laundry and produce industries for several years of this period. Consequently, old Chinatown flourished, expanding eastward from the Plaza across Alameda Street and eventually attaining a population of over 3000. The Exclusion Acts inhibited any real growth for many years.

In it's heyday, between 1890 to 1910, Chinatown could count 15 or so streets and alleys, and perhaps 200 building units. It had sufficient size and sophistication to boast of a Chinese opera theater, three temples, a newspaper (for a while), and later, its own telephone exchange. Old Chinatown was a residential as well as commercial community. The slow increase in the number of women would lead to the establishment of families with children. During this time, most of today's leading Chinese family and district associations, Chinatown institutions were founded, and church missions were organized, which began the process of community acculturation. Old Chinatown, with restaurants, curio shops, and "strange" entertainments, even became an attraction for the early, pioneering breed of American tourist.,_Los_Angeles

Reprinted from The Los Angeles Chinatown 50th Year Guidebook, June 1988: The Golden Years of Los Angeles Chinatown: The Beginning by Suellen Cheng and Munson Kwok, Chinese Historical Society of Southern California

No comments: