While cruising the Tumblr* feed known as Calumet 412, I stumbled across this picture of the King Yen Lo restaurant taken around 1902. It reminded me of something that a lot of Chicagoans I speak to don’t know — that while New Chinatown is fairly new, the so-called “old” Chinatown isn’t all that old.
I discovered this fact a while back while looking at an old 1920’s map of Chicago, and it clearly indicated the southern portion of The Loop as “Chinatown.” King Yen Lo was located at Clark and Van Buren, and was part of Chicago’s original Chinatown.
In the late 1800’s, hundreds of Chinese people lived in the area, and it didn’t look all that different from today’s Chinatown down around the intersection of Cermak Road and Archer Avenue.
As the Loop prospered, and rents increased, the Chinese moved farther south, ending up in today’s Chinatown. A similar migration is happening today, with condo blocks pushing up rents, and forcing more and more Chinese westward into Bridgeport.
So the next time you hear someone refer to the Sheridan/Argyle area as “New Chinatown” you can smile smugly to yourself and know that the current “old” Chinatown was the “new” Chinatown not all that long ago.
*Tumblr is like Twitter for people who find reading 140 letters exhausting, and would rather just look at pictures.