First, Chinatown (at least a good hunk of it) was leveled to build Union Station.
Then it was leveled to build the 110 Freeway.
Now, is it just Father Time that’s going to do her in?
Empress Pavilion — behind on rent and struggling to find customers — closed earlier this summer, the latest blow in Chinatown’s three decades of slow decline. Today the aging community has the feel of a museum. Grimy storefronts gather dust, abandoned by second- and third-generation locals and ignored by a shrinking trickle of tourists.
But a new Chinatown is emerging — one that is less Chinese.
The neighborhood is seeing a new wave of development that is decidedly more mainstream. Developers are building more than 500 new housing units, some hoping to lure downtown types north of the 101 Freeway. A Walmart Neighborhood Market and Starbucks are slated to open this year. Dim sum palaces and gift shops are giving way to single-origin coffee, artisan pasta and pan-Asian cuisine.
A long-delayed residential and retail development broke ground in May. But its latest design has shed the Asian architectural flourishes that traditionalists say is the mark of Chinatown.
The owner of the complex that housed Empress Pavilion is hoping to lure a new dim sum restaurant, but he also hopes to bring in some Thai businesses.
Some see a model in Little Tokyo, which has remained a Japanese enclave while attracting a diverse array of businesses and visitors.
“Why shouldn’t we have a multicultural Chinatown?” asked George Yu, president of Chinatown’s business improvement district. “Why shouldn’t we have a good cup of [Starbucks coffee]? Little Tokyo has two of them, and no one says anything about that.”