Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Old Chinatown in Houston

Today I visited "Old Chinatown" in downtown Houston. It lies on the edge of downtown. The 50-block area , bounded by U.S. 59 to the west, Interstate 45 to the south, Dowling Street to the east and Texas Avenue to the north.It was once the city’s bustling Chinatown district, where restaurants and stores attracted lunchtime crowds and provided services for Houston’s Chinese American community.

Now it is a just a ghost town and a bleek image of what it used to be. The street paving is terrible and the sidewalks are overgrown with weeds and crab grasses. There are empy abandoned buildings and lots that are surronded by chainlink fences. This is due to several factors. On is the fact that everyone is going to the "New Chinatown" located from Bellaire Blvd. and Beltway 8 Eastward to Gessner Rd from Harwin Dr. Southward to Bellaire Blvd. The other factor is that the area is plaqued with crime and sewage infastructure problems.

The only part of the "Old Chinatown" that is left today is a single mall, the Kim Hung Mall which houses the flagship grocery store called Kim Hung Inc., Southwestern National Bank, a pool hall called All Sport's Cafe, a hair cutting place and the original and only award winning best sandwich shop (in the 1990's Chronicle awards) Bahn mi Hoang SON Sandwich. (All mentioned except the pool hall and hair cutting place have been here for 15 years plus).

I visited the Kim Hung Mall and it was quite disturbing to see two freezer isles completed empty, the seafood cases looked as if they had been out of service for year's and the remaning isles with product were not completed stocked and only held miniscule amounts of product that seemed to have been sitting there for months. Besides myself there was one other couple in the store and the owners.

I purchased a few items and proceeded to ask the owner how she felt about the fact that this area was so run down and every shop was long gone. She was quite optimistic and said that there were shops that were coming back and reopening. I found that hard to believe, but after reading about Dan Nip's master plan for the revitalization of "Old Chinatown" I was able to see why she was so optimistic. On my way out I did see some remodeling taking place inside the mall. That gave me hope that there was indeed some progress being made to slowly revitalize this area.

I will have to do more research on Dan Nip's progress for the revitalization of "Old Chinatown" as the only story I found was from August of 2009 fron AsianWeek.com. Besides the small amount of remodeling I saw inside the mall there was not much else being done to make Dan Nip's plans a reality.

It is truly sad to see this cultural part of Houston that has been there for so long going to waste. What makes this situation more bothersome is the fact that there are real people behind these crumbling buildings and businesses.

The empty streets of "Old Chinatown"

The Kim Hung Mall

One of many empty lots

One of the many abandoned buildings

Tomorrow I will have a post up of my visit to the Houston Heights.

(Sources 1, 2, 3)

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