A mysterious and exotic view of Chinatown

Alluring and unorthodox, Chinatown was already a big tourist attraction for out-of-towners as well as slumming-it city residents in the early 1900s.

This postcard, dated 1911, really plays it up. The front shows Mott Street; that’s the Port Arthur restaurant, opened in 1897. The back of the card reads:

“Here are located the joss houses, the civil offices of the colony and lodging houses and restaurants, the gambling rooms and opium-smoking dens.”

Joss house: I had to look it up. It’s another term for a house of worship.

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4 Responses to “A mysterious and exotic view of Chinatown”

  1. Ed Says:

    They were possibly called Joss Houses because a colloquial name of incense sticks is Joss Sticks, at least it is in the UK. Just a thought, I don’t have etymological proof.

  2. Lady G. Says:

    I love the image of the Chinese man on the right casually strolling with his arms behind his back. I lived in heavily populated Asian area of Brooklyn and I saw a lot of the older men do that every day, so funny how some things just never change.

  3. Richard Knyon Says:

    This is not a response to the Chinatown post, but rather some thoughts on the upcoming Titanic centennial memorial ceremonies that will take place next month. The Cunard-White Star pier, Pier 56 on the west side, has ghost images of both the Cunard name, and over that, Cunard White Star. these images can best be observed in the morning sun on the iron frame work of the main entrance to the pier, all that is left of this once huge facility.

    I believe this is the pier where Carpathia docked with her 705 survivors from Titanic, but perhaps she docked at another pier on the East river. However, a picture of Carpathia in pier 54 notes that she had picked up the Titanic survivors. This picture is on Wikipedia.

    Also, there is a picture of the pier, apparently under construction, at Period Paper.com, with the liner Mauretania docked on the south side pf the pier.

    Also in the immediate neighborhood is the National Biscuit bakery, now a rabbits warren of small businesses. It was there in 1912, easily visible from the Cunard dock. The reason I mention the two sites in one paragraph is that for a long time, the south side of the NBC building was adorned with a three story banner advertising the musical Titanic, a few years ago. I often thought that if the survivors of Titanic could have seen that banner, they would have been shocked that a musical could be made of the deaths of 1500 souls.

    Anyway, I thought a picture of the present iron framework, along with the other two pictures II mentioned, could be worth publishing in an April blog.

    Dick Kenyon
    Mooresville, N C

  4. Bob_in_MA Says:

    A great source on Chinatown at the turn of the century is New York’s Chinatown : an historical presentation of its people and places (1898) by Louis Joseph Beck.


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