New Exhibition at The Huntington | ‘Stories and Voices from L.A. Chinatown’

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

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

MEDIA RELEASE

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.

PHOTO: The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens | Erle Webster (1898-1971) and Adrian Wilson (1898-1988), architects, Building rendering for Mr. You Chung Hong, ca. 1936
PHOTO: The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens | Y. C. Hong and the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, 1928

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.

PHOTO: Los Angeles Public Library, Harry Quillen Photo Collection | Artist Tyrus Wong paints a dragon mural on building exterior in Chinatown Central Plaza, 1941

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.

PHOTO: Los Angeles Public Library, Harry Quillen Photo Collection | Lion dance for Chinese New Year in New Chinatown Central Plaza, 1940s

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.

PHOTO: The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens | Peter SooHoo Sr. working at a drafting table, 1920s
PHOTO: The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens | Mei Wah Drum Corps led by Drum Majorette Barbara Jean Wong Lee, 1940

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.

PHOTO: Los Angeles Public Library, Herald Examiner Photo Collection | Mayor Tom Bradley and community leader and restaurateur Mama Quon celebrate the 50th Anniversary of New Chinatown, 1988
PHOTO: The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens | Electrical Products Corp. (artist unknown), Neon lighting concept for New Chinatown, ca. 1936. © Courtesy of Federal Heath Sign Co.

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.

PHOTO: Los Angeles Public Library Map Collection | Sanborn Fire Insurance Atlas showing New Chinatown, 1950