Exploring Chinatown: Past and Present | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Annie Laskey/L.A. Conservancy

Exploring Chinatown: Past and Present

Sunday, April 17, 2016

This one-day tour explored the history and architecture of Los Angeles’ vibrant Chinatown. Use the Geotourist app to take an audio tour of the neighborhood. The audio tour is based on our April 2016 one-day tour. 

Chinatown, one of Los Angeles’ oldest neighborhoods, is awash in colors, sounds, and tantalizing smells. It has a rich history as home to Chinese and other immigrant populations, and its narrow streets have many stories to tell. 

The heart of L.A.’s Chinatown is undoubtedly Central Plaza, which features the iconic East Gate, Golden Pagoda, and Seven Star Cavern Wishing Well. On the tour, guests will learn about the development of this current commercial center. They'll see places of historic importance in the battle for Chinese-American civil rights, study the blended style of Chinese and American architecture readily on display, and experience firsthand the fresh energy of a neighborhood undergoing revitalization.

After a dynamic presentation on the area’s origins and history at the historic King Hing Theatre with special guest speakers, guests were free to explore the area at their own pace. At certain designated sites, Conservancy docents and tour partners were available to provide information and interpretation.

Some featured tour sites:

  • King Hing Theatre (formerly Sing Lee Theatre, 1963)
  • Central Plaza, 1938
  • You Chung Hong Offices, 1938 
  • Chinatown Heritage and Visitors Center (Fritz House, 1886-1888)
  • Castelar School, 1923
  • Thien Hau Temple, c. 1980
  • Chinese American Museum (Garnier Building, 1890)

About Chinatown 

Before ‘New’ Chinatown’s grand opening in 1938 (the original Chinatown stood where Union Station does now), this less than one-square-mile area already stood as an architectural testament to Los Angeles’ diverse immigrant presence. Little Italy was located here: existing structures such as St. Peter’s Italian Catholic Church and Casa Italiana attest to the neighborhood’s Italian heritage. The Pacific Alliance Medical Center, begun in 1869 as the French Hospital, and the 1910 St. Anthony’s Croation Catholic Church speak to other prevalent populations. Their stories add to the richness of Chinatown’s streets, shops, and restaurants, which reflects the predominantly Chinese-American population that still lives here. 

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Major funding for the Los Angeles Conservancy’s educational programs is provided by The LaFetra Foundation and by the Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation.