The first Chinese settlement in Los Angeles appeared in 1852, near what is now Union Station. Some 86 years later, the "Old Chinatown'' community resettled a few streets over, dedicating its Central Plaza on June 25, 1938. Thus did this area become America's very first modern Chinatown, owned, planned and developed exclusively by some 3,000 residents of Chinese descent.
This "New Chinatown'' consisted of restaurants, curio shops, a bean cake factory, a grocery store, a Chinese deli, an herbalist and a number of offices. The Hong buildings on Gin Ling Way were completed in 1939, along with the district's famed East Gate landmark on Broadway, also constructed by Y.C. Hong in memory of his mother.
Other architectural elements and embellishments soon followed, including the Forbidden Palace and the artistic rendering known as the Seven Star Sacred Caverns with its wishing pool and willow tree. In 1941, the five tier tower of the Hop Louie-Jade Pagoda (Golden Pagoda) was added.
Since January 26, 1939, the Chinese New Year has been ushered in here annually with great celebration, including fire works, lion dances, bright costumes and pageantry. The initial lighting ceremony of the East Gate took place on its first anniversary in June 1939 and was reprised in 1985, when the gate was ceremoniously refit as part of a major rehabilitation and beautification effort.
Today, a walk through Chinatown is a must on every L.A. visitor's agenda. Starting from the Central Plaza at 947 North Broadway, it is easy to spend an entire day just exploring the area's quaint walkways and tiny shops.
Heading south along North Broadway, you will pass curio shops and jewelry stores, beautiful tile murals and the Phoenix Bakery, Chinatown's oldest and largest bakery, which has a citywide reputation for delicious strawberry whipped cream cakes. You will want to do some window shopping at the bazaars of Saigon Plaza and Dynasty Center, where stalls are owned by ethnic Chinese immigrants from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Bargains to be found here include clothing, toys, and sundries of all kinds, as well as gold and jade jewelry items.
Cathay Bank, the first Chinese American-owned bank in Chinatown, can be found at the corner of Alpine and Broadway. Nearby is the Far East Plaza, considered to be America's first modern ethnic shopping mall. It houses restaurants serving regional cuisine as well as the Wing Hop Fung Ginseng and China Products Center, the largest outlet of its kind in Los Angeles. Shop here for herbs, teas, chinaware, arts, crafts and garments. It also contains an Oriental pharmacy and an acupuncturist.
Other sites to see along the way through Chinatown include the Taoist Temple filled with smoky incense, the original Chinese United Methodist Church, and the Pacific Alliance Medical Center dating back to 1868. West Plaza, which was built in the late 1940s, houses residences as well as businesses. It is home to the local avant-garde art community, whose galleries are mixed among the curio shops. And for a bit of history, take a peek inside the headquarters of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California on Bernard Street, with its artifacts and photos recounting the history of the Chinese in Southern California.
Chinatown is located on the Metro Gold Line at 901 North Spring Street, Los Angeles, California 90012-1862. The Chinatown Central Plaza is bordered by Hill Street and Broadway between College Street and Bamboo Lane. To get there by car from the Westside of L.A., take the 10 Freeway east to the 110 Freeway north, and then exit at Hill Street. Signs directing traffic to Chinatown are clearly posted. A number of open air lots and enclosed garage structures can be found in the vicinity, with day rates ranging from $3 to $8.