Monday, June 24, 2019

Beyond Chinatown: Pittsburgh's "Chinamen" once entertained idea of "Chinese Building" downtown.

A 1908 Pittsburgh Gazette Times article reports on the efforts to replace Pittsburgh's Chinatown with a state-of-the-art "Chinese building" downtown.

According to Tom Lee, Pittsburgh's Chinatown will shortly be either in one massive skyscraper tenement or in two or three great buildings that will be not only a credit to the enterprise and taste of the celestials themselves, but to the city as well.

Tom Lee is one of a company of Chinese merchants at 436 Third avenue. He and other leading local representatives of the race have been discussing this proposition for some time. Several months ago they looked over a site in Water street. The price asked for the ground, however, was regarded by them as too much, and it was later sold to a business man. All this shows that the Chinamen really are in earnest in their talk about providing better quarters for themselves.

None of the local Chinamen is more representative of the intelligent class among them than Tom Lee. He has been in this country for about 20 years, is courteous and pleasant by nature, and has assimilated many of the American ways, as well as being able to speak the English language almost fluently. Tom has the instincts of a business man, selects his words carefully and dodges the making of any statement that would result in causing him or his people to appear ludicrous.

"All of the inhabitants of downtown Chinatown," he said yesterday, "could easily be accommodated in one building--not crowded into it, but housed in it comfortably. The building, and not an extra large one, either, also could include their business places, and their sleeping quarters certainly would be a great improvement over their present accommodations. By providing such a building for themselves, they would save money in the end, and at the same time always have a valuable holding in property."

It was roughly estimated by Tom Lee that there are in the neighborhood of 300 Chinamen in the downtown district. Practically all of them are engaged in business, of course, being members of various companies--Chinamen of the same name are usually always found in the same company, the Lee company, the Wong company, and so on. Tom Lee figures that the rent these 300 Chinamen have to pay, for their business places and living quarters, runs close to $100,000 a year. If this money could be used in a project for themselves, he argues, it would be only a short time until they could pay for their skyscraper tenement and eventually be "to the good" in both the value of their property and by a great saving in rent.

Tom Lee says that the Chinamen are as tired of living in old, ramshackle buildings as the public are of seeing such conditions of squalor. In most cases it is due to the inability of the Chinamen to pay for better quarters under the present system, but it has been pointed out that there are several representatives of the race who have bank accounts the size of which would cause surprise to many. If only the Chinamen can be got together in this project, Tom Lee says, there will be little difficulty in raising the money needed. He points out that the Chinamen are a very clannish people, anyway, fitting them well for living in one big building.

"If we had such a building," said Lee, "there could be laundry shops in the basement, stores and restaurants on the first and second floors and living quarters above that. In such a building the ventilation would be better, everything would be more sanitary, and the Chinamen would take more pride in their social and business live. There would, of course, be elevators in the building, and every modern equipment. In every way the buildilng would be a credit to our race and to the city.

"It would be "The Chinese Building" instead of Chinatown."