Introduction to China City

Written by Annie Luong

In 1933, Christine Sterling proposed China City, a tourist-oriented commercial project that would include lines of booths and stalls along narrow winding streets similar to the Olvera Street’s Mexican market. China City was located two blocks north of the Old Plaza, and was bound by Spring Street on the west, Main Street on the east, Macy Street on the south, and Ord Street on the north. It featured shops, restaurants, lotus pools and gardens, temples, and shrines. Rickshaws were available to wheel around visitors throughout the “city” and allow them to view rituals and traditional theatrical performances. Marian Leng recalls, “You could ride on a rickshaw for 25 cents all around the whole establishment, the old China City and the new China City.

The area was nicknamed “Chinese Movie Land” as it was complete with rickshaws and set decorations from the film, The Good Earth. Many of the Chinese Americans living in the area found employment as extras in Hollywood films. About one of every fourteen Chinese men and women worked in the movie studios. Ester Lee Johnson recalls that “they would have a bus pick all of us up, loaded [us] in the bus, and then we worked in the studio. I don’t remember if it was 7.50 or 6 dollars that we got a day.” China City was quite successful as a tourist attraction but in 1939, it was destroyed by fire. The project was soon rebuilt, but in 1949, another disastrous fire destroyed the main section of China City, and it was never reopened.