Development

Formed as the Los Angeles Chinatown Project Association. the group’s main objectives were fundraising, site acquisition, design, and construction. Quickly, the membership grew to 33. By August 1937, $40,000 was reportedly raised. The Association or company sold shares, eventually 546.5 shares for $100 per share for the initial capitalization. By the time of the Grand Opening, it was estimated that $100,000 had been invested. All of this money was raised among the Chinese without bank financing or loans. No land acquisition or construction would proceed without the up-front collection of all required funds. Community approvals needed to be gained from the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, Chinese American Citizens Alliance, and the Chinese Consulate.

Erle Webster and Adrian Wilson were the architects who worked successfully to combine the elements of Chinese designs on essentially modern buildings. Economy and a limited budget dictated that the structures be kept simple rather than exactly authentic.

The role of Herbert Lapham in the land acquisition process cannot be underestimated in this period. He was sympathetic to the Chinese need, and worked to convince his superiors. As SooHoo was to say, “Mr. Lapham is considered the ‘godfather’ of Chinatown because he has given them his helpful guidance, and was instrumental in helping establish this new Chinatown here.”

Three groups of buildings were constructed initially along Gin Ling Way, comprising 18 Units. Straddling Gin Ling Way at Hill (Old Castelar Street) is Chinatown’s oldest pailou, the West Gate. The superstructure is made partially of 150 year old camphor wood. The four characters of poetry across the gate were composed by T.K. Chang. In translation, they represent “Cooperate to Achieve” – a good motto for this community project. A traditional composition on a pailou was the highest compliment the representative of China could pay to the Chinese community of Los Angeles for success in their venture.

By the Spring of 1938 of Los Angeles newspapers were beginning to notice the arrival of a new Chinatown. Meanwhile Peter SooHoo was giving talks on the new project to American groups such as the Women’s Club. The first stores opened in February and by June 1 the first 18 units were in operation.

As the project raced toward Grand Opening Day, additional units were in the planning. The goal was 62 units over one square block. In July, the two Story office building and the adjacent mall restaurant complex developed by Y.C. Hong was begun. The famous East Gate (Broadway Gate), also erected by Mr. Hong, was completed before the end of the year. By the second anniversary, apartments had been started, and the project worth was about $500,000. Four more buildings were to follow, so that SooHoo could acclaim in early 1941 that the investment had reached $750,000 (in 1941 dollars).