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New York - Around Town : Chinatown and Little Italy (part 1)

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These two ethnic enclaves are among the most colorful parts of the city. Each was settled by early immigrants, who preserved their own language, customs, and food in the midst of the new and foreign land. Little Italy has dwindled to a few blocks, but it is still an atmospheric center of authentic Italian food and shops, especially on a warm night, when cafés set out sidewalk tables and the songs of Napoli fill the air. Chinatown, however, continues to grow. Up to 150,000 Chinese live there, in crowded quarters. The shops and sidewalk markets overflow with exotic foods and herbs, as well as gifts ranging from backscratchers to fine antiques; and it has been estimated that Chinatown contains an astounding 200 restaurants.

Chinatown’s Early Days

The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act prevented Chinese workers from bringing their families to New York, so the original Chinatown, bounded by Pell, Doyers, and Mott streets, was mostly male and dominated by tongs. These were sometimes social clubs and sometimes rival criminal fraternities, giving the old locale its dangerous reputation.



Sights

  1. Mulberry Street

    There are many trendy shops on Mulberry Street from Houston down to Spring Street and though Chinatown is overrunning much of Little Italy, the block between Broome and Canal remains strictly Italian. It is filled with restaurants, coffee shops with tempting Italian pastries, and stores selling pasta implements, statues of saints, and T-shirts saying “Kiss Me, I’m Italian.” 

    • Mulberry St between Broome & Canal Sts

    Street scene, Chinatown
  2. Police Headquarters Building

    After the boroughs merged into Greater New York in 1898, the city’s police department expanded rapidly. This 1905 headquarters near Little Italy was the result, a monumental, columned Baroque structure fit for “New York’s Finest,” with an ornate dome tall enough to be seen from City Hall. The strange shape of the building fits a wedge-shaped lot. Empty for more than a decade after the department relocated in 1973, the building has since been converted into luxury cooperatives, the Police Building Apartments.

    • 240 Centre St

    • Closed to public

    Police Headquarters Building

    Detail, Police Headquarters Building

    Il Palazzo, Little Italy
  3. Museum of Chinese in America

    This fascinating museum, devoted to the Chinese experience in the West, features an exhibit called “Where is Home?,” with personal stories, photographs, and poetry culled from the community. Among the topics explored are women’s roles, religion, and the “bachelor society.” Changing exhibits range from art to the experience of gay Chinese. Books, area guides, and free flyers on cultural events are available.

    • 211–215 Centre St

    • Open noon–6pm Tue–Thu, Sat–Sun, noon–7pm Fri

    • Admission charge, free Fri

    • www.mocanyc.org

  4. Good Fortune Gifts

    Originally known as Quong Yeun Shing & Company, this is the oldest store in Chinatown, established in 1891. The store was a social hub for Chinese men, who were not allowed to bring their wives to the U.S. under old immigration laws.

    • 32 Mott St

  5. Mott Street Shopping

    Clustered on this block are shops with a wonderful selection of Oriental goods. Iki Iki Gift Shop is a paradise for fans of Yu-Gi-Oh! and Hello Kitty. Lamps made from attractive Oriental vases are the specialty of Pearl of the Orient Gallery, while New Age Designer makes clothing to order in your choice of jewel-hued silks. Serious antiques collectors should head to the Sinotique Gallery.

    Iki Iki Gift Shop

    • 2 Mott St

    Sinotique Gallery

    • 19A Mott St

    Pearl of the Orient Gallery

    • 36 Mott St

    New Age Designer

    • 38 Mott St

  6. Pearl River Chinese Products Emporium

    The largest department store in Chinatown has a fascinating potpourri of goods for sale. There are Chinese musical instruments, paper lanterns, kites, dried herbs, embroidered silk tops, dresses and pajamas with mandarin collars, purses, dolls, pillows, and sandalwood and jasmine soaps.

    • 477 Broadway

    Pearl River Chinese Products Emporium
  7. Eastern States Buddhist Temple

    Step into the incense-scented interior, where offerings of fresh fruit are piled high, and more than 100 gold Buddhas gleam in the candlelight. The temple takes advantage of Chinatown’s tourist traffic by offering $1 fortunes for sale near the front.

    • 64B Mott St

    • Open 8am–6pm daily

    • Free

    Eastern States Buddhist Temple
  8. Church of the Transfiguration

    Built by the English Lutheran Church in 1801 and sold to the Roman Catholic Church of the Transfiguration in 1853, this Georgian-style stone church with Gothic windows is typical of the influence of successive influxes of immigrants in New York. The church has changed with the nationalities of the community it serves, first Irish, then Italian, and now Chinese. As the focal point of today’s Chinese Roman Catholic community, it offers classes and services to help newcomers and holds services in Cantonese and Mandarin.

    • 29 Mott St

    • Open 7:30–9am & 11:30am–1pm daily, 5:30–7pm Sat, 8am–2pm Sun

    • Free

    Church of the Transfiguration
  9. Columbus Park

    Chinatown’s only park was created in the late 1890s as a result of the campaigning of newspaper reporter Jacob Riis and other social reformers. It filled a stretch of the city that at the time was New York’s worst slum, where Riis reported a stabbing or shooting at least once a week. Though it features more concrete than greenery, the park is popular today, filled with Chinese kids at play, mah jong players, and people practicing tai chi and martial arts. On the weekends, Chinese fortune-tellers sometimes set up shop in the park.

    • Bayard and Mulberry Sts

  10. Bloody Angle

    The name for this sharp curve on Doyers Street was coined by a newspaper because this was the site of so many gangland ambushes during the 1920s. It was a period when the Hip Sing and On Leong tongs, groups similar to criminal gangs, were fighting for control of the opium trade and gambling rackets in Chinatown. The tong wars continued off and on until at least the 1940s, and their rivalries continue in the present-day youth gangs.

    • Doyers St near Pell St

    Bloody Angle, Chinatown
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