Chapter 2 New Chinatown
New Chinatown was a fresh start for Chinese Americans, a center that could house the aspirations, hopes, and growth of the community. Though, at its core, it may have been like much of Los Angeles: a business proposition and a media campaign.
Old Chinatown, with its business and family associations, grew steadily between 1870 and 1930, then city officials decided to build a new train terminal in its place. After decades of being segregated within Old Chinatown, where residents and businesses had laid down roots, inhabitants were forced to abandon the area. The Chinese American Museum, located at the Garnier Building in El Pueblo, is the only remaining building from the first wave of Chinese immigration, and the museum reflects, captures and tells the story of the earliest Chinese population.
Yet many Chinese American civic leaders saw an opportunity in starting over anew in the new location, about half a mile northwest from Old Chinatown. Under the vision and direction of Peter SooHoo, a relocation plan for Chinese businesses began to take shape, and in the summer of 1938, New Chinatown was founded. Historian and activist Munson A. Kwok notes that New Chinatown was built by choice, not destiny. At the center of this particular moment in Chinatown's urban renewal was the plan to create a business hub for the community, recreating the "idyllic charm of Old China" to attract tourists and Angelinos alike. Mixed-use dwellings, with businesses on the first floor and homes on the second floor (think Chung King Road), provided housing to some displaced residents, most of them successful business owners from Old Chinatown. The remaining residents moved into areas surrounding the new plaza, next to Little Italy and Sonora Town.
All in all, New Chinatown was a fresh start for the Chinese, a center that could house the aspirations, hopes, and growth of the community. Though, at its core, it may have been like much of Los Angeles: a business proposition and a media campaign.