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Chinatown's Missing Archway




SAMUEL ELI SHEPHERD, HOST:


New York City has three Chinatowns, but not one has a traditional red Chinese archway. That’s about to change. As the city celebrates Lunar New Year, an almost $60 million dollar renovation will bring the first of these iconic arches to the city. Marine Saint joined the festivities.


[Sounds: drums and cheers]


MARINE SAINT, BYLINE: 


Hundreds of people crowd around the edges of Sara D Roosevelt Park in Lower Manhattan. A red dragon moves through the audience and there’s firecrackers everywhere.


[Countdown to Happy New Year, firecrackers]


SAINT: It’s a chaotic and joyful start to the Lunar New Year celebrations. On a stage, Assemblymember Grace Lee is taking a victory lap for making Lunar New Year a statewide holiday. 


GRACE LEE:


This is the symbol to tell all Asian Americans that we are New Yorkers. We are Americans and we belong here. 


SAINT: That question of belonging has long been on Wellington Chen’s mind. He’s the executive director of the city’s Chinatown partnership - and his office is just eight blocks away from the drums and cheers, it’s so quiet. 


WELLINGTON CHEN:


Why should you visit, look how quiet this is? This is a runway after the planes have taken off.


SAINT: All joking aside, Chen quickly gets down to business. He’s showing me a poster of iconic red archways from Chinatowns around the world 


CHEN: Look, there's a huge one. Not here, Yokohama, Japan. Right. And So you can see all kinds of different shapes and forms. 


SAINT: But there are two archways missing: Brooklyn and Manhattan. The wait may soon be over - thanks to two-and-a-half million dollars earmarked as part of a larger budget to renovate a downtown Manhattan park. 

Chen says the renovation of Kimlau Square is urgently needed - and a great gift. 


CHEN: Being the Lunar New Year is to give thanks, and one of the traditions is to hand out envelopes with cash in it. Usually $2. But this is a $56 million red envelope so we couldn’t be more delighted.


SAINT: Kimlau Square is in the Lower East Side, at the intersection of East Broadway, Bowery and Park Row. It’s about a block south of the Manhattan Bridge and at the eastern edge of Chinatown. 


CHEN: One way to look at it is that it can be a collision point if seven streets come together, eight street comes together, boom.


SAINT: Kimlau Square is home to a memorial to Chinese soldiers who fought in World War Two. It’s in bad shape. 


CHEN: But it should be a conversation place. It should be a celebration place.


SAINT: Even with the new funds, construction of the archway won’t begin until 2027. Chen says it’s worth the wait if it means they can bring a historic symbol to the community.


CHEN: When you have arrived, usually what do you enter? A gate? You enter a door. So if this is a village, it's natural to have a doorway.


SAINT: A doorway that in a few year’s time could welcome future Lunar New Year celebrations. Marine Saint, Columbia Radio News.


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