Is SF Chinatown A Dinosaur?


On the area just above Chinatown in Nob Hill — for example on Mason St across from the Cable Car Museum — things are already changing very nicely. Not everything is marked, but if you check out the white building across from the museum, you will see:

  1. Artist studios (especially that fabulous pottery by the subtenants of Clay By the Bay Studios — very Heath Ceramics like)

  2. Architecture Firms — a whole passel of Macs on works desks that have multi-ply wood edges and laminated work surfaces

  3. OrNot — super high-end Made-in-USA road bike apparel …

Once the subway stations opens on Washington and Jackson, this stuff will really explode. The T-line will be a straight shot to Moscone Center, etc… the heart of all those tech jobs.


The T-line will be a game changer!



That is where I grew up and hope to return once we tire of the burbs and maybe even the Sunset. That hipster restaurant at the corner of Mason and Pacific (Mason Pacific) closed down unfortunately. Area is fairly central and weather wise is pretty ideal.



I hear you. Dare I posit that you (and I perhaps) represent change ---- our place on the socioeconomic ladder is probably far above the average Chinatown resident’s place, but we do not live there. If we boomerang to that area in the future, we ourselves will be driving class-change in Chinatown.

My next door neighbor (here in GG Heights) grew up in Chinatown — he recently went back to the neighborhood and checked out the Betty Ong Rec Center and that stretch of Mason street and nearly fell out of his chair figuratively speaking ) — he is in his late 40s.

Pity — I never went to that hipster restaurant ---- I hope another one opens.


Our family was probably the first family on our street to rent to non Asians. Not that we were discriminatory, but honestly non Asians never really wanted to live there (or we thought). The thing was, our folks and other Chinese owners spoke primarily Cantonese so rental ads for the most part went in the Chinese Times newspaper I believe. No good old Craigs and the internet yet and the folks didn’t speak or write English well enough to want to put ads in the Chronicle/Examiner. What happened eventually was that non Asians got smart and simply called the Chinese ads, hoping the sons/daughters who spoke English would answer the calls or their parents would hand them the phone. Now, our street is mostly non Asian actually. We once had a unit that decided to have a sorority type party that spilled onto the roof (dangerous) and front steps until 3 in the morning. My horny old neighbor from across the street wasn’t complaining about the sea of blondes…


I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on this topic sfdragonboy — I think these old ways of M.O. are changing – albeit slowly. Let me explain -

1/ Rentals in chinatown used to be “in the culture” - Only in Chinese pubs, and only in Cantonese / Toishan at that — because Chinatown was were Chinese ppl were relegated to — the only place where they felt “safe”.

2/ However, in the past 100 years, people of Chinese-extraction have become much higher profile within American society in general. Ed Lee - mayor of SF. Lots of SF Supervisors of Chinese-ethnicity - Norman Yee, etc. Gary Locke - ex-Gov Washington. Fresh off the boat on TV. Jeremy Lin, Yao Ming, etc. People don’t need to lock themselves in Chinatown any more to be “safe”.

3/ Cantonese is becoming less and less relevant — to be replaced be Manadarin — even here in SF. An plenty of Non-Chinese know Mandarin quite well. My kids go to a Mandarin immersion school and half of the students are not Asian and speak Mandarin and read simplified Chinese very easily.

4/ The combination of the Internet (as a information dispersal medium), the transportation (new subway line – a human body dispersal mechanism :slight_smile: ), and increased widespread knowledge of the Chinese language — all this I think will force a wake up call to Chinatown — you need to adapt and integrate. Chinatown can’t lock itself into a slummy state of disrepair. It needs to change / grow / and prosper.

Respsecting where you came from and the history that you have doesn’t mean trapping yourself in a socioeconomic class that represented where you were 100 years ago. Just my take on it.


Gosh, hopefully not too long, eh, @aalj??? :grinning:

No, I hear ya, but honestly let’s see what actually happens in the old neighborhood first, especially once the Muni station is opened and fully operational. Sure, changes may be coming, especially if the heirs to the properties decide they don’t want them anymore, then the places will be exchanging hands and probably to non Asians. But you have to at least acknowledge that a lot of the folks that do own a lot of Chinatown are quite well to do and they are not desperate to sell. And, let’s not forget that Chinatown is one of the special neighborhoods in the City that must pretty much retain its legacy and history.


Retail is dying, and so the changes will come, and hard for Chinatown. Wait, you will see it coming. I mean, 50 years wait…:star_struck:


Uh, the produce and grocery markets in Chinatown are thriving as always. Diehards still go back to Chinatown to buy their groceries instead of the satellite Chinatowns in the Richmond and Sunset. It is cheaper and fresher. Again, gentrification seen in other areas and neighborhoods happened because people couldn’t resist the money thrown at them. The problem with Chinatown is, the owners have money and love real estate. They are not going to sell in droves, simple as that.


And they don’t realty reinvest… Most Chinatown places are beaten up, dated, and dirty.


True, but let’s hope the new bus station sparks a revival of the area and then owners are willing to remodel or spruce up the places. Not to mention the earthquake proofing that is needed on many of the soft storied buildings in addition to the mostly unreinforced masonry building that are so prevalent there. We simply have been lucky to this date that no large earthquake was centered here.





People need to adapt and change - unless they want to wallow in their own poverty forever.

Why is it that this section of town needs to be reserved for “low income immigrants” forever? Look, if you are an iimigrant and you want to be low income forever, then don’t bother coming to this country. This country isn’t for leeches.


Why not? All I ever wanted to do is to leech off of this country… :rofl:


Well, the only thing I can add to this is that please remember that Chinatown for a lot of people is just their first stop on a long journey here in the US. Most of the folks come here, get acclimated, and then move on to other neighborhoods in SF or of course down the peninsula or East Bay. To be frank, I don’t know that Chinatown remains Chinatown if it weren’t for the clout and money of the Chinese. Come on, the Harlem or the Mission changed because people didn’t have the means to hold onto those properties since they were either renters or if owners the money was too good to pass up. I am sure many of the Chinatown owners have been approached over the years to sell but for whatever reason they didn’t. I will probably be the only one of my family to one day return to rechristen our old girl where we grew up. It will be my pleasure to dress it up to the 9’s so that our ancestors can see that all their hard work was not wasted.


I can appreciate your points, thanks sfdb. I think the main thing which I am trying to articulate, which I did not do elegantly in my previous post, is that I feel so many of Chinatown’s residents are seemingly trapped in this self-view of 1920s poverty … and they seemingly feel entitled to keep that view of themselves.

And that entitlement and self view traps them into a vicious 360 circle of poverty.

Case in point - hanging laundry outside.

Hanging laundry outside may have been the way to dry laundry at the turn of the 20th century all over this country, but it is not generally accepted practice anymore. Is that really what you want - to keep your neighborhood looking like crap?

Back at the turn of the century, Chinatown was really the only place that immigrant Chinese had opportunities and survive. So I understand the historical context set against racism, and limited opportunities.

These days this is no longer the case. Immigrants from all over the world have immigrated to so many parts of the USA and pushed themselves out of the comfort zone to learn English, learn new customs, and thrive. Example - the Vietnamese coming in the 70s and experiencing business success in Louisiana and the Gulf States in the shrimping industry.

Rhetorical question - If you want to immigrate to the USA, why keep inside your comfort zone and stick around in Chinatown and refuse to adapt? Its not good for the USA, its not good for the immigrant … just stay in China then if you don’t want to push yourself out of the comfort zone. I am mostly directing this criticism to the 50-75 year old folks in Chinatown who seemingly have no interest in participating in broader American life. I don’t see them as a net positive for the USA … especially as we look to compete on the global stage with modern day Chinese people in China! (Like Jack Ma of Alibaba fame).


Come on, those are old people. Give them a break! Can’t teach old dogs new tricks…

I’m still supporting my parents to this date even though they are old and useless… total burden to me and society…


50 and 60 is not old. And I am not supportive of folks who refuse to adapt while coming to the USA.