Louisiana Cultural Vistas - Fall 2007 - (Page 57)
few Chinese merchants remained across the street into the early 1940s; in 1958, it too was mostly razed. Relocation, structural demolition, and socio-economic change put an end to New Orleans’ Chinatown. It died because — to complete the seed-soil-water analogy — the “seed” (Chinese Mission) was relocated, the “soil” was destroyed (demolition of Chinatown structures and exodus of the area’s working class), and the “water” (steady stream of local clientele) had evaporated. As the Chinese-American community moved from downtown to the inner suburbs to the outer suburbs, so too did the Chinese Mission. In 1952, it moved from South Roman Street to Mid-City, where, 75 years and one day after its foundation by Lena Saunders, it formally organized as the Chinese Presbyterian Church. After most members moved to Jefferson Parish, the church followed them, moving in 1997 to its fourth and current home — on West Esplanade Avenue in Kenner — in 115 years. Chinese laundries have also mostly disappeared from the New Orleans streetscape, victims of wash-and-wear clothing and changing tastes in apparel. Many laundry families reinvested in dry-cleaning enterprises and restaurants, and carry on successfully today in the suburbs. The “new Chinatown” founded in 1937 on the 500-600 blocks of Bourbon Street was a fraction of its previous size and not nearly as culturally significant as the original Chinatown, but lasted roughly the same length of time, over five decades. Its existence is preserved in a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire, in which Blanche DuBois symbolically shades the glare of a naked light bulb with a Chinese paper lantern — purchased, she explains, “at a Chinese shop on Bourbon.” Tennessee Williams once lived around the corner from the Bourbon Street Chinatown and probably patronized it. The original Chinatown on 1100 Tulane Avenue is today the most utterly obliterated of New Orleans’ historic ethnic enclaves. It had the misfortune of being located precisely where the Central Business District meets the Medical District. Add to this demand for parking space and lack of historic-district protection and, structurally speaking, Chinatown did not stand a chance. Not only have the original Chinese Mission and the adjacent circa-1860 Presbyterian Church been demolished, but their entire block is now subsumed by Tulane University Medical Center. The castle-like Criminal Courts Building diagonally across from Chinatown was demolished in 1949 and replaced by the New Orleans Public Library. Major arteries have been widened, altered, and renamed. Only one structure from Chinatown’s days remains on the 1100 block of Tulane; though its façade is modernized, its old brick side wall is still visible. Next to it, in splendid irony, operated a modernday Vietnamese-Chinese restaurant, seemingly carrying on the Chinatown legacy even though its owners and patrons were probably oblivious to the history of their location. “The Purple Roses” Restaurant enjoyed a brisk lunchtime business for years, until it too was destroyed — by Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters. LCV This article is an abridgement of a chapter from the author’s Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm, published by the Center for Louisiana Studies in 2006. Richard Campanella, Ph.D., is a geographer with the Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane University, and author of three critically acclaimed books about the historical geography of New Orleans. He may be reached at email@example.com. Fall 2007/LOUISIANA ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES 57
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