Chinatown, Los Angeles

Neighborhood of Los Angeles

Entrance to Los Angeles' Chinatown

Map of the Chinatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, as delineated by the Los Angeles Times

Location within Downtown Los Angeles

Coordinates: 34°03′46″N 118°14′16″W / 34.062888°N 118.23789°W / 34.062888; -118.23789

Chinatown is a neighborhood in Downtown Los Angeles, California that became a commercial center for Chinese and other Asian businesses in Central Los Angeles in 1938. The area includes restaurants, shops and art galleries but also has a residential neighborhood with a low-income, aging population of about 10,000 residents.

The original Chinatown developed in the late 19th century, but it was demolished to make room for Union Station, the city's major ground-transportation center.[1][2] A separate commercial center, known as "New Chinatown," opened for business in 1938.

There are two schools and a branch library in Chinatown, as well as a city park, a state park and a medical center and hospital. Many motion pictures have been filmed in the area.


Old Chinatown

Chinese Quarter, ca. 1885, by Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria

In the early 1860s, thousands of Chinese men, most of them originating from Guangdong province in southern China, were hired by Central Pacific Railroad Co. to work on the western portion of the first transcontinental railroad. Many of them settled in Los Angeles.[3]

In 1871, nineteen Chinese men and boys were killed by a mob of about five hundred white men in one of the most serious incidents of racial violence that has ever occurred in America's West. This incident became known as "Massacre of 1871".

The first Chinatown, centered on Alameda and Macy Streets (now Cesar Chavez Avenue), was established in 1880.[4] Reaching its heyday from 1890 to 1910, Chinatown grew to approximately fifteen streets and alleys containing some two hundred buildings. It boasted a Chinese Opera theater, three temples, a newspaper and a telephone exchange. But laws prohibiting most Chinese from citizenship and property ownership, as well as legislation curtailing immigration, inhibited future growth.[5]

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 of their buildings.[2] Eventually, the entire area was sold and then resold, as entrepreneurs and developers fought the area. After thirty years of decay, a Supreme Court ruling approved condemnation of the area to allow for construction of a major rail terminal, Union Station.[2][6] Residents were evicted to make room for Union Station, causing the formation of the New Chinatown.

Seven years passed before an acceptable relocation proposal was put into place, situating a new Chinatown in its present location.[2] Old Chinatown was gradually demolished, leaving many businesses without a place to do business and forcing some to close. Nonetheless, a remnant of Old Chinatown persisted into the early 1950s, situated between Union Station and the Old Plaza. Several businesses and a Buddhist temple lined Ferguson Alley, a narrow one-block street running between the Plaza and Alameda. [7]:244 The most notable of the surviving buildings was the old Lugo house, having been built in 1838 by the prominent Californio family. Some decades later, the Lugo house became the original home of Loyola Marymount University, and later still, it was rented to Chinese-Americans who ran shops on the ground floor and a lodging house upstairs. Christine Sterling, who had brought to fruition the Olvera Street and China City projects (described below), argued that remaining buildings of Old Chinatown were an eyesore and advocated successfully for the razing of all the remaining structures between the Plaza and Union Station.[7]:244 Today the space is occupied by a small park and a parking lot.

"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 situated in Garnier Building.[2]

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.[8]

China City

Christine Sterling, who worked tirelessly to bring about the conversion of Olvera alley into the Mexican-themed Olvera Street, conceived of a similar plan for the displaced Chinese American population. [7]:242 In 1938, she opened China City, a walled enclave featuring Chinese-style architecture, restaurants, shops, rickshaw rides, a lotus pond, and a temple. Costumed workers greeted tourists, and a Chinese opera troupe performed live shows in front of the shops. Some replica buildings in China City came from the set of the 1937 Hollywood blockbuster, The Good Earth. China City received mixed support from Chinese American residents and businessmen. Many welcomed the economic opportunity the project provided. Others preferred the New Chinatown project, considered less distorted by the stereotyping lens of Hollywood. During its eleven-year existence, China City was destroyed by fire and rebuilt numerous times. In 1949, an act of arson destroyed China City for the last time; Sterling’s project would not be rebuilt. New Chinatown remains the city’s only downtown Chinatown.

New Chinatown and Little Italy

The dragon mural in L.A. Chinatown painted by Tyrus Wong and restored by Fu Ding Cheng (1984)
New Chinatown main plaza - December 2011
Wishing Well, 2001

The area that today encompasses New Chinatown was at one time part of Los Angeles' Little Italy. In the early 20th century, Italian immigrants settled in the area north of the Old Plaza. Many built businesses, including wineries (San Antonio Winery is the only one of these still in existence).[9]

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 a collective community process, resulting in a blend of 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,"[10] 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 film director Cecil B. DeMille to give Chinatown an exotic atmosphere.[11]

The Hop Sing Tong Society is situated in Central Plaza, as are several other Chinatown lodges and guilds. Near Broadway, Central Plaza contains a statue honoring Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese revolutionary leader who is considered the "founder of modern China". It was erected in the 1960s by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. A 7-foot tall Bruce Lee statue was unveiled at Central Plaza on June 15, 2013. It was made in Guangzhou, China.[12][13]

Sculpture of Sun Yat-sen in Chinatown

During the 1980s, many buildings were constructed for new shopping centers and mini-malls, especially along Broadway. Metro Plaza Hotel was opened in the southwest corner of Chinatown in the early 1990s. A large Chinese gateway is found at the intersection of Broadway and Cesar Chavez Avenue, funded by the local Teochew-speaking population.[14][15]

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 described as a spectacular pagoda-themed facility and as a cliché of neo-pagoda architecture by Christopher Hawthorne, the Los Angeles Times architecture critic.[16][17][18]

In 1983, two Los Angeles Police officers died in the line of duty when their patrol car was broadsided by a speeding car at the intersection of College Street and Broadway. The speeding car was carrying three suspects thought to be escaping from drug deal gone bad. In 1984, a violent shootout in a jewelry store on Gin Lin Way resulted in the death of a Los Angeles Police officer. In 1985, a shooting occurred in the First Chinese Baptist Church on Yale Street. A pastor and a deacon were killed by a mentally ill man who was a former member of the church. The gunman was killed when an off-duty law enforcement officer returned fire. In 1996, an Academy Award-winning (for the Killing Fields in 1985) Cambodian refugee, physician and actor, Haing S. Ngor, was killed in the Chinatown residential area in a bungled robbery attempt by members of an Asian gang. It had been speculated that he was assassinated for his activism against the Khmer Rouge government of Cambodia, but this idea was later proved unfounded.[19]

By 2000 many people had left the Chinatown for the City of Monterey Park, which has a Chinese community in the San Gabriel Valley. In 2000 AsianWeek said that the Los Angeles Chinatown was "troubled."[20]

On June 28, 2008, a celebration of the 1938 founding of New Chinatown was held with the L.A. Chinatown 70th Anniversary Party.[21] "Though lacking the hustle and bustle of San Francisco's Chinatown, Los Angeles' version has charms of its own."[22]


Chinatown beyond the concentrated business center is flanked by the Elysian Park to the north, Lincoln Heights to the east, Downtown to the south and southwest and Echo Park to the west and northwest.[23][24]

On the south-easternmost section of Chinatown are the William Mead Homes.

Street and natural limits of the Chinatown neighborhood are: north, Beaudry Avenue, Stadium Way, North Broadway; east, the Los Angeles River; and southwest, Cesar Chavez Avenue.[25][26]

Adjacent neighborhoods

Relation of Chinatown to other places:[23][26][27]


According to the 2000 census, Chinatown was the Los Angeles neighborhood with the highest number of residents who were born outside the United States—72.4%. Koreatown and Westlake were next. In Chinatown, China (55.3%) and Mexico (12.4%) were the most common places of foreign birth.[28]

Thien Hau Temple, another popular attraction in LA Chinatown.

The 2000 U.S. census counted 9,610 residents in the 0.91-square-mile Chinatown neighborhood, excluding the population of the Los Angeles County Jail complex. That made an average of 10,568 people per square mile, which included the empty Cornfield area, and was about average for the city. The median age for residents was 37, considered old when compared to the rest of the city. The percentage of residents aged 65 and older was among the highest for Los Angeles County.[28]

Chinatown was said to be "moderately diverse" when compared to the city at large. The ethnic breakdown in 2000 was: Asian, 70.8%; Latino, 23.5%, whites, 2.5%; blacks, 1.8%, and others, 1.5%.[28]

The median household income in 2008 dollars was $22,754, considered low for Los Angeles. The percentage of households earning $20,000 or less (53.6%) was the third-largest in Los Angeles County, preceded by Downtown (57.4%) and University Park (56.6%). The average household size of 2.8 people was just about the city norm. Renters occupied 91% of the housing units, and home- or apartment owners the rest.[28][29]

The percentages of widowed people were among the county's highest. There were 220 families headed by single parents, or 9.6%, a low figure for Los Angeles.[28]

These were the ten neighborhoods in Los Angeles County with the largest percentage of Asian residents, according to the 2000 census:[30]

  1. Chinatown, 70.6%
  2. Monterey Park, 61.1%
  3. Cerritos, 58.3%
  4. Walnut, 56.2%
  5. Rowland Heights, 51.7%
  6. San Gabriel, 48.9%
  7. Rosemead, 48.6%
  8. Alhambra, 47.2%
  9. San Marino, 46.8%
  10. Arcadia, 45.4%


Cathay Bank has its headquarters in the Los Angeles Chinatown.[31]


Chinatown Branch Library at Hill and Ord Streets

Just 8.3% of Chinatown residents aged 25 and older possessed a four-year degree in 2000, considered to be a low figure.[28]


There are three schools operating within Chinatown. They are:[32]


Los Angeles Public Library operates the Chinatown Branch.



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 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. Few boba cafes have opened in Chinatown, but a large number are to be found in the Chinese enclaves in the San Gabriel Valley.

A feng shui spiral at Chinatown's Metro station

TS Emporium and Tin Bo are stores selling ginseng and herbs as well as other household merchandises are operated within the confinement of this particular Chinatown.

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.

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.[10] 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.


Chinatown is in the process of becoming an entirely new place. Chinatown at the height of popularity was filled with bustling Chinese restaurants that included barbecue delicatessens with glass displays of roast duck and suckling pig and Cantonese seafood restaurants with dim sum.[33][34][35] As the action in Chinese cuisine became centered in the San Gabriel Valley, southeast Asian eating places filled some of the empty spaces and offered Vietnamese pho noodle soup and submarine sandwiches called banh mi.[36] As downtown revives, Chinatown has been sparked into life by cheap rents, the gallery boom in the 2000s and deep-rooted sense of community.[37] Chinese bakeries and other shops continue to serve the area.[38] Traditional Chinese restaurants that have remained are being joined by a variety of new restaurants as the opportunities Chinatown offers is recognized by additional restaurateurs.[39] The area is better served by transit than many areas with Union Station so close by. Even though low-income seniors remain, college graduates can find their first apartment here and condos are becoming available for the affluent. This economic diversity encourages a diversity of places to serve the area.[38]

Philippe's sign, January 2010

Three of Chinatown's restaurants highlight the history and diversity of this neighborhood.[40]

Little Joe's Italian Restaurant has been demolished and is being developed as Blossom Plaza

Recreation and parks

Los Angeles State Historic Park


Chinese translation on a street sign at College Street and Broadway. This sign reads in Cantonese Dai hok gai and in Mandarin as Da xue jie (da xue means college or university).

The words Los Angeles Chinatown are written and pronounced as follows as (traditional Chinese: 洛杉磯唐人街; simplified Chinese: 洛杉矶唐人街; pinyin: Luòshānjī Tángrénjiē; Cantonese Yale: Loksāamgēi Tòhngyàhngāai) in Cantonese, (traditional Chinese: 洛杉磯中國城; simplified Chinese: 洛杉矶中国城; pinyin: Luòshānjī Zhōngguóchéng; Cantonese Yale: Loksāamgēi Jūnggwoksìhng) in Mandarin Chinese or officially known as (simplified Chinese: 洛杉矶华埠; traditional Chinese: 洛杉磯華埠; pinyin: Luòshānjī Huábù; Cantonese Yale: Loksāamgēi Wàhfauh).


Events that have been held or are planned in Los Angeles's Chinatown include a Chinese New Year Parade,[49] a lantern festival at the Chinese American Museum,[50] a firecracker run and fun walk,[51] a mid-autumn Moon Festival and a Miss Los Angeles Chinatown Pageant.[52] A midnight firecracker display occurs every Chinese New Year's Eve at Thien Hau Temple and Xuan Wu San Buddhist Association.

Buildings and structures


The conclusion of the film Chinatown was filmed on Spring Street.[57] The movie Rush Hour was filmed on location in Chinatown.[58] It is said that a stroll down Old Chinatown Plaza has many rewards, including recognizing many other locations that are used in filmmaking and television production.[59]

East Gate on Broadway in New Chinatown's Central Plaza, built in 1938, is Historic-Cultural Monument No. 826. West Gate on Hill Street is No. 825.
Feature films

Notable people

See also


  1. Angels Walk–Union Station/El Pueblo/Little Tokyo/Center, published by Angels Walk LA, 2000
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Chinatown Los Angeles California, Restaurants in Chinatown, Pictures of Chinatown
  3. Chinese in America, Chinese Historical Society of Southern California
  4. Watanabe, Teresa (August 3, 2008). First lady puts Thai Town on the map. Los Angeles Times.
  5. See, Lisa (2003). Angels Walk - Chinatown. Angels Walk LA.
  6. Cheng, Suellen; Kwok, Munson (June 1988). The Golden Years of Los Angeles Chinatown: The Beginning. The Los Angeles Chinatown 50th Year Guidebook.
  7. 1 2 3 William D. Estrada. The Los Angeles Plaza: Sacred And Contested Space.. University of Texas Press, 2008.
  8. Smith, Icy; Wang, Emily (2001). The lonely queue: the forgotten history of the courageous Chinese Americans in Los Angeles. East West Discovery Press. ISBN 978-0-9701654-1-1.
  9. Italians in Los Angeles. pp. 7–8.
  10. 1 2 Quon, Cameron (November 4, 2015). "Chinatown: The Tale Of Three Plazas". Annenberg TV News. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  11. Tsui, Bonnie (2009). American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods. New York: Free Press. p. 117. ISBN 978-1-4165-5723-4.
  12. 1 2 Frank Shyong, (June 16, 2013) Bruce Lee statue unveiled in L.A.'s Chinatown, Los Angeles Times
  13. Ohanesian, Liz (February 12, 2015). "Bruce Lee's Huge Bronze Statue Turns Into a Mecca in L.A.'s Chinatown". LA Weekly.
  14. Wallach, Ruth, Compiler and Photographer "Chinatown Gateway" Public Art in Los Angeles Accessed 30 April 2014
  15. Wedlan, Candace A. (July 5, 2001) "Gate Takes Wing From a Dream" Los Angeles Times
  16. Nelson, Laura J. (December 20, 2013) "Metro rail stations are being planned with design in mind" Los Angeles Times
  17. Hawthorne, Christopher (December 31, 2013) "Review: Tentative signs of progress in Metro's transit network design" Los Angeles Times
  18. Woodson, Joy L. (August 13, 2003). "Ringing in a New Era in Old Chinatown". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  19. "Articles about Haing S Ngor - Los Angeles Times". Los Angeles Times.
  20. AsianWeek" Staff and Associated Press. "Philadelphia Chinatown Wins Stadium Fight Archived September 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.. AsianWeek. November 24–30, 2000. Retrieved on November 8, 2011.
  21. "Chinatown Los Angeles". Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  22. Balfour, Amy C.: "Lonely Planet Los Angeles Encounter Guide 2nd Ed.", pag 130. Lonely Planet Publications PTY, 2009 LTD
  23. 1 2 "Central L.A. - Mapping L.A. - Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  24. "Eastside - Mapping L.A. - Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  25. "Chinatown," Mapping L.A., Los Angeles Times
  26. 1 2 The Thomas Guide, Los Angeles County 2006, page 634
  27. Google maps
  28. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Chinatown," Mapping L.A., Los Angeles Times
  29. "$20,000 or less Ranking - Mapping L.A. - Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  30. "Asian", Mapping L.A., Los Angeles Times
  31. "2014 Annual Report 2014" (Archive). Cathay Bank. Retrieved on March 27, 2016. p. 18. "Corporate Headquarter 777 N. Broadway Los Angeles, CA 90012"
  32. "Chinatown Schools," Mapping L.A., Los Angeles Times
  33. Baer, Stephanie K. (August 22, 2015). "Peking duck is so important to Chinese culture it got a health code exception. Here's why". The San Gabriel Valley Tribune. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  34. Ni, Ching-Ching (July 25, 2010). "Irvin R. Lai dies at 83; Chinese American community leader in Los Angeles". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  35. Reichl, Ruth (January 13, 1991). "Grab That Cart! : Ocean Seafood has quickly become the place for dim sum in Chinatown, and no wonder". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  36. Gold, Jonathon (April 17, 2015). "At Empress Pavilion in Chinatown, it's not 1991, but not bad either". Los Angeles Times.
  37. Betty Hallock (August 24, 2013) "George Yu hungers to bring new restaurants to Chinatown" Los Angeles Times
  38. 1 2 Gold, Jonathan (January 16, 2015) "Chinatown emerging as L.A.'s hottest restaurant destination" Los Angeles Times
  39. Betty Hallock (June 4, 2013) "Chinatown dim sum palace Empress Pavilion evicted, closes doors after almost 25 years", Los Angeles Times
  40. STEIN, PAT (February 12, 1998). "Can you do downtown L.A. on foot? You betcha!". The San Diego Union - Tribune. p. NIGHT.D.
  41. 1 2 Thursby, Keith (September 2, 2010). "William 'Bill' Binder dies at 94; ran Philippe's eatery". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-02-26.
  42. 1 2 3 POOL, BOB (October 8, 1998). "After Many Years, Little Joe's Will Just Fade Away". Los Angeles Times. p. 1.
  43. "Little Italy hidden in L.A.'s tangled roots". Daily News. Los Angeles, Calif. October 10, 2010. p. A.2.
  44. Vincent, Roger (March 7, 2009). "REDEVELOPMENT; Chinatown project is halted; A bankruptcy stalls a complex planned for the Little Joe's site.". Los Angeles Times. p. B.1.
  45. Mallory., Michael (December 2, 2002). "They're empty, but full of promise; Renting out vacant buildings as film locations can fill the needs of owners, production companies and the community.". Los Angeles Times. p. E.6.
  46. Pool, Bob (April 21, 2014) "Workers discover part of L.A.'s first municipal water system" Los Angeles Times
  47. Rasmussen, Cecilia (2003-07-13). "Pasadena's Gold Line will travel a history-laden route". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-07-29.
  48. "City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks". Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  49. "Chinese Chamber of Commerce LA". Archived from the original on 2013-09-01. Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  50. Archived January 18, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  51. "L.A. Chinatown Firecracker". 2013-06-30. Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  52. "Welcome to Miss LA Chinatown Pageant". Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  53. "CRA Approves Expansion of French Hospital - Los Angeles Times". 1985-09-22. Retrieved 2013-08-17.
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  55. "Jeanne d'Arc sculpture -French Hospital in Los Angeles". Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  56. "County Correction Facilities & Jails - Los Angeles County". Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  57. 1 2 "Film locations for Chinatown (1974)". Retrieved 2013-08-17.
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  59. "". Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  60. "Filming Locations of I Love You Man - part 2". Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  61. Verrier, Richard (August 28, 2012) 'Gangster Squad' adds to L.A.'s Chinatown credits, Los Angeles Times
  62. "Salvador Apablasa, 75; Descendant of Pioneer Los Angeles Landowners," Los Angeles Times, March 22, 1985, page C-2
  63. Los Angeles Chinatown Visitor Map, Chinatown B.I.D, 2006
  64. My-Thuan Tran (January 21, 2010) Revisiting Haing Ngor's murder: 'Killing Fields' theory won't die, Los Angeles Times
  65. Jim Hill, Actor Haing Ngor found gunned down outside L.A. home, CNN, February 27, 1996
  66. "Bio". Lisa See. Retrieved 2013-08-17.
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  68. Location of the Weyse residence on Mapping L.A.


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Coordinates: 34°03′46″N 118°14′16″W / 34.062888°N 118.23789°W / 34.062888; -118.23789

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