Photography by Ann Summa
Once a bustling area, Chinatown was becoming a ghost town in the late 1970's and 1980's. By this time the original business owners of New Chinatown had turned their backs on this urban center and relocated to other thriving suburban areas. In the resulting vacuum, Madame Wong
's restaurant and The Hong Kong Café
began booking L.A.'s emerging punk
bands, revitalizing the next phase of the region's life. Madame Wong hosted alternative bands during the weekday night shift, attracting a new generation of migrants to Chinatown - disillusioned and disenfranchised youth from East Los Angeles and beyond. Other venues like the Hong Kong Cafe followed suit, and soon Chinatown was its own musical Mecca. Future icons like X
, the Undertakers
, Black Flag
, and Guns 'n' Roses
all made their way in Chinatown in the late 1970's and early 1980's, with groups like The Police crossing oceans to play here as well. Madame Wong preferred the more refined New Wave sounds of bands like Blondie
over the untamed energy of punk locals such as the Undertakers - who played at the Hong Kong Café - and thus the Chinatown Punk Wars
began. New Wave vs. Punk, nose ringed and spiked vs. preppy hats and thin ties, all played out against the backdrop of the deserted Chinatown in Los Angeles, generating a radically different experience of the neighborhood than ever before. Today, one just has to walk through Chinatown's Main Plaza to see the legacy of a cultural syncretism that included both the history of L.A.'s ethnic population and the new idioms forged by the new generations of early immigrant populations.
You can hear journalists Ann Summa and Jeff Spurrier recount their experiences with Madame Wong and the Chinatown Punk Wars in our interview.