Daniel Bradbury, 35, strolled through the narrow and decorated streets of Old Chinatown in Los Angeles on a recent Friday afternoon. As he made his way past the Central Plaza and through the gates built to model traditional Chinese Architecture that mark the entrance to the historic neighborhood, he looked across the street to the construction site of the new Blossom Plaza development.
“It’s definitely different,” Bradbury said. “Everything else around here looks like it was built to look like we were in Asia. The only thing that building looks like is American.”
Rising over the fences around the construction site and towering over most nearby buildings with its size and height, the new Blossom Plaza is set to change Chinatown. Opening in the Spring of 2016, the development will include 237 apartments, more than 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and a direct connection to the Metro Gold Line Chinatown Station.
“I think it will make Chinatown more modern and allow the area to reinvent itself,” Bradbury said. “I get that it takes away a little cultural heritage from the area, but new businesses and residents will bring in more money to the neighborhood.”
“I think it will make Chinatown more modern and allow the area to reinvent itself.”
–- Daniel Bradbury, Chinatown Shopper
On the quaint streets of Old Chinatown, there is both worry and excitement for the completion of the Blossom Plaza project, which has experienced nearly a decade of delays.
Maria Amarra frequents the Wonder Bakery in Old Chinatown where she buys traditional Chinese pastries.
“I come to Chinatown to buy foods and goods that I can’t get anywhere else,” Amarra said. “That’s what makes the area so special. If it becomes Americanized and big name brands take over the area, it will lose all of its cultural appeal.”
Amarra feels that Chinatown should remain an area of cultural significance, not infiltrated with multi-national businesses and modern developments.
“There’s a reason it’s called Chinatown,” Amarra said. “If I want to go to Walmart I can drive down the street from my house. If I want coffee from Starbucks I can go almost anywhere in the city. Chinatown should be reserved for small stores that sell Chinese goods and food.”
Daniel Chen, a UCLA graduate student and Los Angeles native, shops at the same stores he has for years in Chinatown.
“I can buy whatever I need in Chinatown,” Chen said. “Clothes, school supplies, gifts. I hope the stores don’t change what they sell to attract new customers as the area becomes more modern. I like the tradition of Chinatown.”
The more than 100 million dollar Blossom Plaza development adds another example of the gentrification of Los Angeles’ Chinatown. In January of 2013, the Jia Apartments opened down the street on North Broadway. The 93 million dollar project features modern apartments and a Starbucks in the building.
“New developments like the Blossom Plaza bring a new group of people to Chinatown,” said Weston Mui, a Business and Real Estate Development student at the University of Southern California. “Millennials looking for a cheaper area that is on the rise in terms of development may want to check out Chinatown. It’s close to downtown, has a lot of cultural activities, and fairly affordable.”
“I can buy whatever I need in Chinatown.”
–- Daniel Chen, Chinatown Shopper
The Blossom Plaza is being built on the site where the famous Italian Restaurant Little Joe’s used to sit. The restaurant has been closed for more than 15 years and the site has been empty for years. The Jia Apartments took over the space that the Chinatown Gateway complex once occupied.
Part of the Blossom Plaza development is reserved for affordable housing. 54 units will be set-aside for lower income citizens. Although the leasing prices are not yet available, the rest of the units will be leased at a higher price. At the nearby Jia Apartment complex, leases begin at $1,690 a month for a studio apartment.
“Overall, newer and fancier buildings in the area will raise the real estate value of the neighborhood,” said Mui. “As more people with more money begin to move into Chinatown, the area will become more developed with high-end stores. This will attract a whole new group of people to the area.”
As the Blossom Plaza nears completion, questions over what the future of Chinatown should look like will continue. Should big-name American brands set up shop in the historic neighborhood? Should developers build expensive apartment buildings in the area? Regardless of what sides of the debate people are on, there is one thing that has already come to Chinatown: change.
“You can either fight change of embrace it,” Bradbury said. “Chinatown has a choice, and although the new buildings may look out of place, there are definitely a lot of good things that they bring to the area.”
The Blossom Plaza development is set to change Chinatown. Find out more about the project.
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