How L.A. Works: Chinatown’s Grand Entrance

In 1938, L.A.’s Chinese community gathered at what is known as the West Gate to celebrate the opening of New Chinatown (its original location, about a mile away, was demolished to make room for Union Station). Once owned and operated exclusively by Chinese Americans, the area’s shops and restaurants are now run by a more diverse group of people. Here’s how the entry point has held up over time

Graphic by Bryan Christie

1. The Location
The West Gate, which is one of four Chinatown entrances, is on Gin Ling Way at North Hill Street.

2. The Characters
The four-panel inscription translates as “Cooperate to Achieve.” The red, blue, and yellow neon lights that adorn the gate’s perimeter were added later.

3. The Wood
The panels are made primarily of camphor wood imported from China. This durable lumber has been described as the “smelly cousin of cinnamon”—its odor repels insects. The original pillars were replaced with concrete due to weathering and dry rot.

4. The Plaques
Then-California governor Frank F. Merriam presented a plaque dedicated to 19th-century Chinese builders. Two other plaques commend architects Adrian Wilson and Erle Webster. The city declared the gate a Historic-Cultural Monument in 2005.

5. The Paint
In Chinese culture the color red symbolizes happiness and good fortune. The crimson shade used on the sidewalk is “Red Baron” and produced by Behr.

6. The Street
Gin Ling Way, one of Chinatown’s main pedestrian strips, is named after the “Street of Golden Treasures” in Beijing. The open-air complex is credited as being one of the first outdoor shopping malls in the United States.

7. The Maintenance
The L.A. Chinatown Corporation oversees the upkeep of all gates and common areas in Central Plaza. Among the typical gripes: pigeon droppings, small fires, and neon lights flickering out when it rains.