Disappearing Houston’s Old Chinatown




Killian, Daisy

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This work is concerned with the brief life -and death- of a Chinese business and community center in Houston, referred to now as Old Chinatown, which used to exist on Chartres street, directly beside the I-59 highway and the present George R. Brown convention center. Old Chinatown got its start as a Chinese enclave in the 1950s, following the loss of a previous Chinatown in the Alley Theater area, but wasn’t officially recognized as a Chinatown until the 1970s. However, the area was still small and relatively unknown. Thus, the realtor Mr. Yang Lee ‘BoBo’ Woo began a project to revitalize the area, hoping to expand Old Chinatown both geographically and economically. Likewise, Gene L. Lee, who owned a grocery and a publishing company, created a newspaper (The Chinese Journal) in the same year, encouraging support for Woo’s project. This project did not pay off, though, and today Old Chinatown is, in large part, gone. This paper argues that the causes of this disappearance were three-fold: inherent precariousness of the space itself, Houston’s own negligence, and Chinese-Americans exodus to the suburbs. However, while exodus and inherent limitations may have made Old Chinatown’s end inevitable, the real nail in its coffin was the installation of the George R. Brown Convention Center.

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