Reyner Banham Loves LA: The New Chinatowns

In the past three decades the communities of Alhambra and Monterey Park, nestled in the foothills of the southwestern San Gabriel Valley, have transformed themselves from sleepy suburban bedroom communities (bursting at the seams from a 1950s housing explosion) to the nexus of a pan-Asian megalopolis spreading east to Diamond Bar and beyond to the county line. Fueled by immigration from Taiwan, Hong Kong, more recently South East Asia, these communities have found their identity, their economic base, and have come into their own as a new type of American “chinatown.”

Hosted by Richard Schave, THE NEW CHINATOWNS is an entertaining and illuminating historical and cultural bus tour that rolls through Alhambra, San Gabriel, Rosemead and (mainly) Monterey Park exploring significant people, remarkable places and delicious delicacies. Join us as we explore the region’s fascinating history, from the land and oil booms of the 1920s, its halcyon postwar days as a suburban outpost for lower middle class Angelenos, the birthplace of the Hula Hoop (Wham-o Industries), to the “white flight” of the 1970s which created the vacuum that facilitated the first wave of migration from China. Among the significant sites on our itinerary:

* Paradise Trailer Park (Rosemead), a picture perfect time capsule of gracious, tree-shaded mobile home living in the postwar Southland.
* The Venice Room (Monterey Park), a groovy grill-your-own-steak bar, still family-run after forty years.
* Browning Realty (Monterey Park), site of the 1920s oil mania and still a family enterprise after eighty-plus years.
* El Encanto (Monterey Park), exquisite showplace of the failed 1920s luxury housing development intended as the Beverly Hills of the East.
* Mission Superhardware (San Gabriel), still run by the Fabriano family after more than seven decades, and previously where Howard Roach built some of the Southland’s first television sets.
* Site of the original Laura Scudder potato chip factory (Monterey Park).
* Pioneering purveyors of high quality Asian herbs, teas and notions Wing Hop Fung, for a tea tasting.

Today Monterey Park is at the crossroads of economic development. After three decades spent fostering independent businesses-fueled by immigrant’s dreams and sweat, the city is looking to bring in big business, which it claims is desperately needed for its tax base. Can this unique and quintessentially independent community survive another identity crisis, another land boom, this time of a distinctly corporate nature?

Special attention will be paid in the route to a compelling side effect of this sociological revolution: the best Asian food in the world is here as well. We will end the tour with a tea tasting at Wing Hop Fung.