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CHINATOWN – LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – 1956

Los Angeles Chinatown

This slide is marked: Holly, Sandra and the Powell’s, July 1. Holly is the man on the left. The man on the right is smoking. And the ladies are wearing gloves – how civilized! I hope they’re not planning on giving Chinatown the white glove test!

Chinatown is a spectacular themed environment that predated Disneyland by seventeen years. Hard to believe it was designed by the city of Los Angeles. In the 40s, 50s and 60s it was among Southern California’s most popular and publicized tourist attractions – yes, right up there with Disneyland. Built in 1939 just after Union Station was built on the site of the old Chinatown, it was promoted as an Oriental oasis of quaint souvenir shops, selling oriental oddities, souvenirs, silks, jewelry and clothing with Chinese restaurants and nightclubs, and a dimly lit perfumed temple. I’m still looking and sniffing for that perfumed temple!

Back in the day, many of the restaurants in Chinatown advertised authentic Cantonese food, yet they served chop suey, sweet and sour pork and Peking duck – dishes unknown in China. And we thought we were eating real Chinese food!

The first time I ever went to Chinatown I was about fifteen and looking for any excuse to take a trip into the big city from Ontario! I went with my grandmother in her ‘63 Thunderbird. She always drove that car really fast. She was in search of some red silk fabric to make a kimono or some such thing. We tasted dim sum, saw a rat and she bought me some smelly incense. On the way home she said, and I’ll never forget it, “My next husband is going to be a Chinaman”

Today, I go to Chinatown quite often. It’s remarkably well preserved (by neglect). It’s a great place to buy unique gifts, have a cheap cocktail at the Golden Pagoda, then have dinner a few blocks away at my favorite Chinese restaurant, Mon Kee Seafood, located at 679 N. Spring St, Los Angeles (phone: 213/628-6717). Before you walk into Mon Kee, make sure to notice the amazing vintage ceramic fish tiles in the window. Then as you go through the door prepare to gasp! The giant vintage underwater sea life mural takes up the whole north wall of the main dining room. It is quite nice to dine by (and make sure to keep your eye out for the elderly lady snappin’ snow peas in the corner).