Chinatown

by Peter Baxter  

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Los Angeles’ Chinatown is known as the second most active and authentic of Chinatowns on the west coast, the first being San Francisco’s Chinatown, which is the biggest and considered the liveliest Chinatown in North America.

The Los Angeles Chinatown that we know today began in 1938 when a group of dignitaries designated a plot of land to be the areas’ “Chinatown.” It was the first modern Chinatown in America and the last move for a Chinatown that had already had to relocate because of crime and corruption.

Old Chinatown

Chinese immigrants began arriving in Los Angeles in the mid 19th century and by the end of that time they were concentrated in sufficient numbers that the area was dubbed Chinatown.

American tourists flocked to experience Chinese culture and the Chinese-owned stores and businesses gave way to gambling halls and opium dens that catered to male tourists. By 1910, increasing housing instability caused by landlords uncertain in the continuing value of their property further exasperated the problems of the depressed area.

Increasing numbers of female immigrants allowed a new Chinese enclave populated by families and children to spring up when the land that the Old Chinatown occupied was sold to developers.

New Chinatown

Today, Chinatown is a cultural and commercial center with businesses from restaurants to Chinese medicine lining the streets. Chinatown was designed by Hollywood set designers for an exotic feel and the streets are a big tourist draw. Chinatown expanded beyond the bounds of the planned section, however, and the expanded area is now home to Chinese-speaking residents and immigrants. The economy is still geared toward those looking for traditional sauces and Chinese products that are not mass-produced in Los Angeles.

Chinatown is located adjacent to downtown Los Angeles in the area between Dodger Stadium and City Hall and other city buildings. Tourists generally stay in the city’s center, where the architecture and atmosphere is designed to give off a certain feel.
One of the most organic scenes that lend the area a sense of Chinese culture is the daily morning scene of residents rising early and heading to the park to practice Tai-Chi as the sun rises.

Tours

Chinatown is featured in several bus tours around the city and a walking tour of Chinatown discloses some of the sites and history of the area. From Central Plaza to the historic (but now closed) Little Joe’s- an Italian restaurant in Chinatown, the tour hits the most popular sites in Chinatown as well as walking you through some of the most popular herbalists and traditional products stores. The tour concludes at the Chinese Historical Society of Southern Califrnia, where you can dive further into the history of the area and Chinese culture in general.


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