[TIMELINE] Eddy See Opens Dragon's Den Restaurant in 1935
- Dragon's Den
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Chinese population in
the United States was changing, from mostly a bachelor society, to
one that included families. The American-born children of Chinese
immigrants began expressing themselves through art and enterprise.
This second generation sought to balance the old world of their
parents with a new world opening up outside Chinatown.
Federally-sponsored programs, like the Works Progress Administration
(WPA), brought students together with nationally-known artists. The
growing popularity of Chinese cuisine, along with tourist
attractions like China City and New Chinatown, brought new patrons
into Chinatown. Some Chinese American youth viewed Old Chinatown
with nostalgia, but many looked for opportunities to escape its
confines by marketing themselves in Hollywood and elsewhere.
Dragon's Den Attracted a Trendy Crowd
In 1935, Eddy See opened the Dragon's Den Restaurant in the basement
of the F. Suie One Company. On the exposed brick of the basement
walls, Benji Okubo, Tyrus Wong and Marian Blanchard painted murals
of the Eight Immortals and a dancing dragon. An arty crowd,
including Walt Disney and the Marx Brothers, came to see the murals
and sample the "authentic fare." In an era when Chinese restaurants
were known as chop-suey joints, Dragon's Den served egg foo young,
fried shrimp and almond duck. Non-Chinese diners during the Great
Depression considered these "exotic" dishes.
Eddy opened Dragon's Den restaurant in the basement of the F. Suie
One Company in Chinatown. With a $600 grubstake, Eddy went about
creating a place that would be very different from other restaurants
The See Gallery Sponsored Chinese American Artists
Eddy See opened a small gallery in the mezzanine of the F. Suie One
Company to sell the artwork of his friends, including Tyrus Wong, a
student at Otis Art School, and Benji Okubo, a Japanese American
artist from Riverside. Okubo met art pioneer Stanton Mcdonald-Wright
while studying at the Art Student's League.
He introduced McDonald-Wright to Wong and others at Dragon's Den,
including Gilbert Leong, a student from Chouinard Art School, George
Stanley, Marian Blanchard, and Dorothy Jeakins. McDonald-Wright's
interest in Asian art grew because of his acquaintance with these
students. He encouraged these young Asian American artists them to
look to their heritage for forms and to juxtapose colors without
adopting western perspectives.
The End of Old Chinatown
The area east of Alameda, near downtown Los Angeles, suffered from
decades in decline before a deal was finally struck in 1931 to build
Union Station, a new railroad terminal. The pending demolition of
Old Chinatown was one reason the neighborhood was falling apart.
Another cause was the exodus of second generation Chinese Americans,
youth whose citizenship rights enabled them to secure "outside" jobs
and housing. Some were ashamed of the run-down place where their
immigrant parents had been forced to live. They blamed
discrimination on bad publicity emanating from the media portrayals
of Old Chinatown. Hundreds were forced to relocate when demolition
began in December 1933, many of them elderly Chinese bachelors.
Filming The Good Earth
In 1932 Irving Thalberg bought the motion picture rights to Pearl
Buck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Good Earth, hoping
to "establish a clearer and more sympathetic relationship" between
the United States and China. However, Thalberg could not bank on
Chinese American actors in the starring roles, so he cast Paul Muni
as Wang and Louise Ranier as O'lan. Supporting roles featured Ching
Wah Lee, Keye Luke and Caroline Chew. Filming took place in and
around Los Angeles. When the movie premiered on January 1937,
critics hailed it as the most authentic view of Chinese life ever
The Good Earth.
Though producer Irving Thalberg sent a crew to China to film scenes
for The Good Earth, the film footages were reconstructed in Los
Angeles and Northridge.
House Of Wang, The Good Earth.
China City included The Good Earth movie sets as tourist
Christine Sterling opened China City in June 1938 as a tourist site,
similar to the Mexican-themed Olvera Street nearby. The attraction
pandered to touristy stereotypes of China. It was enclosed within a
miniature "Great Wall of China," with lotus pools, temple gongs,
curio stands, dance pavilions, and movie sets from The Good Earth.
Tourists rode rickshaws and ate Chinaburgers. They loved the
atmosphere, as did dignitaries like Eleanor Roosevelt. Movie stars
such as Mae West and Anna May Wong were paid to make appearances and
promote the attraction. A fire leveled China City in February 1939.
Though it reopened amid great fanfare in August, business was never
Peter Soo Hoo made New Chinatown a Reality
Peter Soo Hoo, President of the Chinese American Association,
negotiated with Herbert Lapham of the Santa Fe Railway Company to
purchase land and build New Chinatown. Soo Hoo formed a corporation
with twenty-eight men and women, each contributing $500 per share.
One of Southern California's first pedestrian malls, New Chinatown's
brightly colored buildings and tiled pagoda roofs attracted
tourists, shoppers and diners. The eighteen stores and bean cake
factory also served the social and economic needs of the community.
The clean, contemporary appearance of New Chinatown did much to
raise the status of Chinese Americans in Los Angeles.
Inscribed "Cooperate to Achieve," New Chinatown's west gate was
constructed as a tribute to Chinese laborers who built the railroads
of California. Y.C. Hong erected the east gate in honor of his
mother and the self-sacrifices of motherhood.