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NEIGHBORHOOD HISTORY

With a history that dates back to 1870, Chinatown is one of Philadelphia’s oldest and most vibrant neighborhoods. For many decades Chinatown consisted of a concentration of Chinese businesses clustered around the 900 block of Race Street. These predominately male-populated clusters were called “Bachelor Societies” and were formed in many of the east coast cities.

After World War II, liberalized immigration policies toward the Chinese transformed Chinatown into a family-oriented community. Churches, businesses, and social and cultural organizations were established to improve neighborhood life, preserve Chinese culture, and provide services to growing numbers of immigrants.

Located in Center City and next to central public transportation lines, Chinatown has prospered and grown into a vital economic and cultural hub for Philadelphia. Chinatown’s restaurants, stores, churches, and cultural attractions have made the neighborhood a bustling center for commerce and tourism.

While Chinatown has grown as an economic hub for the City, the neighborhood has continued to serve as a vital gateway for new immigrants and an important cultural center for the Asian American community.

Yet, Chinatown is also a community divided in half. The Vine Street Expressway, a massive 12 lane highway, runs through the heart of the neighborhood, effectively cutting the northern part of the neighborhood off from the south. These two sides differ greatly, with each harboring its own unique set of challenges and opportunities.

Today over 3,200 people and 600 businesses live and operate in Chinatown – a neighborhood whose area is only a quarter square mile.

On October 8, 2010, the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission dedicated a historic plaque at 913 Race Street recognizing the founding of Chinatown. Placed at 913 Race Street, the plaque marks the place of the laundry owned by Lee Fong. Lee Fong was one of the many sojourners who fled anti-Chinese sentiment in the west and relocated east, and the business he established at this site is considered the birth of the neighborhood.

Resources

Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation

Click here for an interactive map and boundaries of Chinatown