History of Los Angeles’ Chinatown Explored in Online Exhibition and Downtown Outdoor Installation

Project draws on the collections of the The Huntington and Los Angeles Public Library to bring history to life through the memories and reactions of community members
Published on Apr 29, 2021

Mabel Hong (second from right, standing) at Chinese American Citizens Alliance picnic, 1950s.
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

The history of Los Angeles’ Chinatown, the first community in North America to be planned and owned by people of Chinese descent, will be explored and celebrated beginning May 1, 2021, in a new online exhibition titled “Stories and Voices from L.A. Chinatown,” and in a fence-wrapped installation at a vacant lot in the heart of the community. The project is the first in the series Archive Alive, a new collaboration of The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens; the Library Foundation of Los Angeles (LFLA); and the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). The installation and online exhibition coincide with the beginning of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

For “Stories and Voices from L.A. Chinatown,” curators at The Huntington and LFLA selected dozens of photographs, documents, illustrations, restaurant menus, and maps drawn from The Huntington’s and LAPL’s vast collections to tell the story of New Chinatown, which was created in downtown Los Angeles in 1938. The online exhibition is organized in six thematic sections: Exclusion, Resilience, Vision, Opportunity, Community, and Tradition. In each section, archival materials are interpreted through video interviews with 10 community members who share their personal connections, memories, experiences, thoughts, and reactions. Interviewees include Pat SooHoo Lem, daughter of Peter SooHoo Sr., the leader of the group that created New Chinatown; Nowland C. Hong, son of Y. C. Hong, a prominent immigration attorney and another of New Chinatown’s founding members; Eugene Moy of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California; Kathryn Chan Ceppi and Kelly Chan, second generation owners of the legacy business Phoenix Bakery; and Cindy Yan, a college student who grew up in Chinatown and received a scholarship from the Friends of the Chinatown Library.

For the site-specific part of the project, a 250-foot-long fence-wrap surrounds a vacant lot in Chinatown on North Hill Street, between the pedestrian streets Gin Ling Way and Lei Min Way. The wrap’s bold design highlights community members’ quotes that add meaning to the archival materials reproduced along the length. It also invites passersby to visit the “Stories and Voices from L.A. Chinatown” website to view the video interviews.

Through the new Archive Alive series, The Huntington, LFLA, and the LAPL aim to activate history with site-specific installations and displays, online exhibitions, and interviews with community members whose personal reflections and connections bring the archives to life. Future Archive Alive projects are in planning stages.

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