Chinese Cultural and Community Center
125 N. 10th Street, Philadelphia
UPDATE: On June 14, 2013, the Philadelphia Historical Commission added the Chinese Cultural and Community Center to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, protecting it from inappropriate alterations and unnecessary demolition. CLICK HERE to view the nomination, which was submitted by the Preservation Alliance in October 2012.
Significance: Before the Friendship Gate was erected in 1984, the Chinese Cultural and Community Center stood as the single most iconic symbol of Philadelphia’s Chinatown. Behind an elaborate façade assembled from pieces of the Chinese Pavilion from the 1967 Montreal Expo, the center was an anchor for generations of Chinatown residents and the public face of the community for the rest of the city. The center evolved from a YMCA chapter established in 1955 by T.T. Chang, considered the unofficial “mayor” of Chinatown for his lifelong efforts in promoting Chinese culture in Philadelphia. Known for its collection of Chinese cultural artifacts, classes in language, cooking, and the arts, and for traditional New Years banquets, the Center suffered a period of slow decline after Chang’s death in 1996.
Threat: The center closed permanently in 2007, and the building has stood vacant ever since. Its current owner, a non-profit foundation which grew out of the defunct community center, has limited resources to maintain the structure, portions of which date to the early nineteenth century. Despite its iconic street presence and cultural history, it is not locally designated.
Recommendations: Always a popular destination for residents and visitors to Chinatown alike, the building has great potential to be repurposed in a way that would make its operation sustainable. If an appropriate commercial use for the building is identified, listing on the National Register of Historic Places could provide economic incentives for its rehabilitation.