It's impossible to avoid Fong's neon sign in the middle of Chung King Road. The sign represents the allure of a fading era when the "exotic" Chinatown was still an attraction to hundreds of Angelinos. Now that we are past the turn of the century, the glitz and curiosity has faded, yet signs like these are being repurposed by new tenants in a sort of postmodern wink. Gallery owner Steve Hansen, for example, interviewed for this series, took the name and sign of the original shop to name his gallery, China Art Objects, now (sadly) moving to Culver City. Behind these signs, Fong's in particular, lies the hidden history of L.A.'s New Chinatown. Gim Fong opened its doors in 1953 - the original shop burned down in the China City fires - and thanks to a personal loan from his uncle, Fong See, one of the most respected figures in L.A.'s Chinatown and great grandfather of writer Lisa See and Leslie Leong. Perhaps no other document captures the significance and role that Gim Fong played in New Chinatown as well as Leo Politi's beautiful children's book, Mr. Fong's Toy Shop, which chronicles the story of toy makers and his young friends as they prepare for a shadow puppet play during the Moon Festival. When Gim Fong died, fears of the shop's closure forced the family to reevaluate its historical significance, and his nephew, artist Mason Fong, stepped up to the plate. We sat down with Mason to talk about the history of the shop and the reason why establishments like his are monuments to our ethnic history.
History and Generations
"Mason Fong talks about the rich history spanning four generations of his family-owned Antique shop."
Historical Monuments of our Ethnic History
"Mason Fong explains the gradual decline of local family business, and the ethnic importance of preserving these remaining historical monuments throughout Chinatown."
"Mason Fong describes the reasons why selling Chinese antiques was a popular trade."