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Chinatown Los Angeles: Neighborhood Profile

A General Overview of Chinatown in the Downtown Area of LA


Chinatown Summer Nights Parties in Downtown LA
Photo: Aaron Paley (Community Arts Resources)


Bordered By

  • Broadway, Spring Street and Alameda in the East
  • Hill Street in the West
  • Dodger Stadium and the Harbor Freeway in the North
  • Hill Street in the South

Chinatown: A Brief History

LA’s first Chinatown (‘Old Chinatown’) was established in 1880 and consisted of about 15 streets and alleys and approximately 200 building units. However, business in the area began to decline in the 1910’s, partially due to its bad reputation for hosting gambling houses and opium dens.

Old Chinatown soon became a grab-bag for greedy warring real estate developers. And, finally, after decades of decay, the Supreme Court condemned Old Chinatown. It was then ousted (but ultimately moved and re-christened) to make room for Union Station.

On June 25, 1938, California's Governor Merriam held a New Chinatown grand opening ceremony during which he dedicated Los Angeles Chinatown's Central Plaza. At the time, it was one of the country’s first malls and the first modern American Chinatown, owned and planned by the Chinese community itself.

In early 1941, the Golden Pagoda was constructed. This may have been the last major ‘New Chinatown Central Plaza’ landmark erected.

A sub-dialect of the Cantonese (Taishanese) from South China was dominant in Chinatown until the '70s. At this point--post-Vietnam War--Vietnamese, Cambodian and ethnic Chinese immigrants from Vietnam settled in the area making Cantonese and Teochew Chinese both widely spoken in the Downtown LA enclave.

Chinatown Today

Today, Chinatown is a hip, exciting and culturally vibrant East Side quarter. The community is still largely Chinese and Southeast Asian but some non-Asian artists, designers and events promoters have 'moved in' to the area as well, appropriating retail spaces and such as galleries and events locations (for example the Kim Sing Theater).

Chung King Road, which developed cool and cutting edge caché in the arts scene during the turn-of-the-Millennium, is now a still cool albeit more established gallery quarter.

The mainstream acceptance of and interest in such Downtown arts pockets may at least partially be due to the monthly Downtown LA Art Walk event (and developer Tom Gilmore's gentrified lofts slightly beyond Chinatown's confines in the heart of Downtown).

However, Chinese immigrants, so-called hapas (like myself) and second and third generation Chinese Angelinos can still count on good old fashioned tradition when it comes to Downtown's Chinatown. People still (and will probably always) flock to the area for the riveting Chinese New Year Golden Dragon Parade which takes place in January or February. And of course, tried-and-true eateries like Yang Chow (a favorite with the mayor and other local celebrities) are still bustling on any given day.

Culture and History Sites in Chinatown

  • Chung King Road (art galleries)
  • Old Chinatown Central Plaza
  • Chinese Heritage and Visitors Center
  • Chinese United Methodist Church
  • "The Party at Lan-Ting" Mural

Chinatown Restaurants, Food, Bars

  • Chinatown Farmers Market
  • Empress Pavilion
  • Golden Dragon Restaurant
  • Grand Star Jazz Club
  • Hop Louie Restaurant
  • J&K Hong Kong Cuisine
  • The Mountain Bar
  • Pacific Restaurant
  • Philippe's, The Original
  • Pho Broadway
  • Yang Chow Restaurant

Community Businesses and Organizations

  • Chinatown Public Safety Association
  • Chinatown Senior Citizens Service Center
  • Chinatown Service Center Youth Center
  • Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles
  • Chinese Historical Society of Southern California
  • Metropolitan Transportation Authority
  • Southeast Asian Community Alliance

Schools in the Chinatown Area and District

  • Ann Street Elementary School
  • Castelar Elementary School
  • Cathedral High School
  • Central Los Angeles High School
  • Chinese Consolidated School
  • Evans Community Adult School
  • La Petite Academy
  • Los Angeles Confucius Education

Local Chinatown Traditions

  • Chinatown Art Nights
  • Chinatown Film Festival
  • Chinatown Summer Nights
  • Chinese New Year Annual Golden Dragon Parade and Fireworks
  • Ching-Ming Ceremony
  • Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

Films and Television Shows Shot in Chinatown

  • 48 Hours (1982)
  • Anchorman(2004)
  • Chinatown (1974)
  • Collateral (2004)
  • Dragon Seed (1944)
  • Nancy Drew (2007)
  • Pretty in Pink (1986)
  • Rush Hour and Rush Hour 3 (1998 and 2007)
  • Starsky & Hutch (2004)
  • Spanglish (2004)

Real Estate Facts

  • Population: 43,759
  • Overall school district performance: 690 (some distance from the statewide target of 800)
  • Crime index (measures violent crime reported - lower number is better): 104, approximately 490% higher than the LA County average; the majority are robberies

Facts pulled from: LA Life: Chinatown

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