Culture Corner

This year marks the 75th anniversary of Los Angeles Chinatown, or “New Chinatown” as it was called when dedicated in 1938. The oldest Chinatown was once located where Union Station and part of the Hollywood Freeway are today. The community moved uphill to its present location and, through a collective community process, created what in essence was Los Angeles’ first theme park—a multiple block area of shops, restaurants, and tourist attractions—defined by ornamental Chinese and American  architecture—which also provided shelter and housing for Chinatown residents, clubs, and businesses.  Hugely successful at its inception, “New Chinatown” saw major development throughout the 1930 and 1940s as a tourist attraction for Hollywood celebrities and a center of commerce for Chinese-Americans.

Today, the community is experiencing a revival brought about by many forces. Avant-garde artists have created a nexus of galleries and studios that bring hipsters and nightlife to the area. The advent of the Metro Gold Line Station makes transportation in and out of Chinatown more efficient. The resurgence of the downtown’s central business district has created a demand for corporate housing in surrounding neighborhoods. And in response, multiple residential and mixed-use construction projects are underway in Chinatown.

Take a stroll through LA’s Chinatown and enjoy a delightful feast of old and new. Beyond the main thoroughfares, one encounters a myriad of alleyways and courtyards through which pungent fragrances and the clicking of mahjong tiles beckon. Around each corner is a shop offering something new and unique—from handmade hair ornaments to vintage guitars, from a performance gallery to an upscale auto parts store, from turtles to tea.

While Empress Pavilion may have closed its doors, Chinatown still boasts plenty of dimsum shops and noodle houses, plus restaurants sporting cuisine from all regions of Asia including China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Korea. Many of the restaurants continue to be run by the founding families of Chinatown.

To discover some of the most unique treasures of Chinatown, take a tour. The Chinatown Business Improvement District offers guided walking tours on the first Saturday of every month.  Guides will take you to Chinatown’s largest temple, herbal shops, art galleries, antique stores, and more while sharing insight into the culture and history of the area. The Chinese Historical Society of Southern California also offers tours—particularly focusing on architecture and history. The Chinese American Museum is also a rich resource not only because it tells the history of the Chinese-American community, but also because the building itself is an original Chinatown landmark.

With the 75th anniversary came the dedication of a new statue—a larger-than-life Bruce Lee—in “New Chinatown.” The Lee family founded the LA Chinatown Corporation (LACC), one of the oldest organizations in the Chinatown community and one whose present shareholders are directly descended from the founding members of Chinatown. LACC is a privately held corporation that manages several properties, including the iconic Central Plaza, also known as “New Chinatown.”

Chinese New Year will be celebrated on February 1-2 with an annual parade and festival attended by hundreds and televised around the world. Students from UCLA’s Confucius Classrooms and Confucius Institute partner programs will be participating in the parade for the first time in 2014. For general information about Chinatown, contact the Chinatown Business Improvement District . For information about the Golden Dragon Parade, contact Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles.

Chinatown Gateway
The Golden Dragon Parade at Chinese New Year
Dedicating the Bruce Lee statue in Chinatown
One of the Chinatown Summer Nights parties with a DJ from KCRW-FM
The Chinatown Gateway on Broadway at night