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From the Archives: Restaurants in Los Angeles "New Chinatown Center"

It has been quite some time—nearly four months!—since I last posted something to Kimchi and Kishke. The reason? I have been working like mad on my dissertation. Of course I haven't stopped cooking or eating, but the whole "taking pictures, telling a cute story, and tuning my notes into an actual recipe part" takes longer than you might think. I have an overwhelming backlog of recipes that I am hoping to publish before Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.

I spent most of my summer researching Los Angeles's "New Chinatown Center." In the 1930s, Los Angeles demolished its historic Chinatown to build Union Station downtown. In 1938, New Chinatown Center—the first American Chinatown fully funded and owned by Chinese Americans—opened as the old Chinatown's modern replacement. You can read more about the history of Los Angeles's Old Chinatown, China City, and New Chinatown in the the Historical Society of Southern California's Chinatown Remembered project (and my forthcoming dissertation!). In May and June, I held a short-term fellowship at the Huntington Library to study the papers of immigration lawyer You Chung Hong and engineer Peter SooHoo, two Chinese American Los Angeles community leaders who were instrumental in the design of the new center.

While researching the architecture of the Chinatown Central Plaza, I came across some incredible Chinatown restaurant ephemera from the 1930s-'40s. Here are a few of my finds. All images are my own. Archival materials are from the Huntington Library's Hong Family Papers.

Los Angeles's Chinatown is in a state of transition. While most of the buildings are still intact, there are far fewer Chinese American businesses than there once were. That is even more the case during the pandemic. I am including some images of these locations today. Many of them are now galleries, commercial businesses, non-Chinese restaurants, or nothing at all.

Above: Invitation from Raymond Wong for the grand opening of Mei-Lan Food Shop, 1938.

Below: Menu art from the Golden Pagoda restaurant in 1938, one of the most iconic buildings in L.A. Chinatown

Below: the Golden Pagoda building in June, 2021. It was a sort of dive bar/Chinese American restaurant called Hop Louie when I first visited in the 2010s but has been closed for a while. There is a newly-opened store that sells paper crafts by Asian American artists in the attached building right now, and I believe a new bar will be opening in the property soon.

Below: photograph of original artwork for the menu cover of the Rice Bowl Cafe. I believe this building is now an import store on one side and an aura photography studio on the other.

Below: The blue and yellow building houses 951 and 949 Sun Mun Way. I believe 949 is an Aura photography studio now.

Below: Menu cover of the Joy Yuen Low restaurant, c. 1940s maybe?

Joy Yuen Low becomes the Hong Kong restaurant and bar/venue some time in the 1970s. This postcard for Hong Kong Low looks like it is from the '60s or '70s.

Here is the building today—I am not sure what is it or if it is anything these days.

Below: more original art for the menu cover of the Forbidden Palace restaurant, c. 1938-1940.

Below: menu from cocktail bar/lounge Li Po, which later becomes the beloved General Lee's (also closed now).

the program includes an illustrated story of the history of the namesake Chinese poet Li Po.

Below: cover art for the program at Chinatown nightclub Kubla Khan, open in the mid-1940s-1950s. You can read a little more about its history by in a short article by Raymond Chong here.

some incredible interior pictures

Below: an advertisement for Grand Star Chinese restaurant. I was really into the Chinese-inspired take on midcentury modern design, which is a bit different from the typical pagoda style. It definitely prefigured tiki culture within Chinese restaurants.

Below: you can see it in the design of Grandview Gardens too, which is sadly no longer standing though the sign is still up. It was one of the few original buildings not designed by Webster and Wilson. The architect was Harwell Harris, whose materials I was able to view in our own archives at UT-Austin.

Part of the sign is still standing on Mei-Ling Way

Well...I hope you enjoyed this look into the history of Los Angeles's Chinatown restaurants.

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