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WATCH: Highlights of the new Chinatown exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum

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Local News / Entertainment

Saturday, 11 April, 2009 11:46 AM

New Chinatown exhibit opens at the Detroit Historical Museum

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

The Chinatown marker at Cass Avenue and Peterboro Street in Detroit.

by Jason Rzucidlo
americajr@americajr.com

 

WATCH: Highlights of the new Chinatown exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum

Quicktime Required

DETROIT -- Many people know about Detroit's Greektown and Mexicantown. However, most are not aware that Detroit once had a Chinatown community along Cass Avenue. The area has been abandoned over the last 20 years or so. Many of the buildings are are still standing but are deserted with graffiti on the sides. A new exhibit has opened at the Detroit Historical Museum with historical artifacts and photos from Chinatown and will be on display until July 5.

The new exhibit reveals the untold stories of residents of Chinatown and the current presence of metro Detroit's Chinese American population. It includes photography, artifacts and personal interviews to illustrate contributions of this lost cultural area.

"I do think it's a generational difference as to people my age would not know about Chinatown," said Chelsea Zuzindlak, director and curator of the exhibit. "It disintegrated in the late '70s and early '80s. But people like my mother's and grandmother's generation would know a little about Chinatown because they may have eaten in a restaurant there or maybe even shopped at Wah Lee Company over on Third Avenue."

Some of the artifacts being displayed include a grocery scale from the 1800's, a silk dress from a Chinatown business, original artifacts from inside the recently-demolished Chin Tiki restaurant (which was featured as a filming location of the movie 8 Mile), and images from previous Chinese New Year celebrations to reflect the experiences of Chinatown residents and visitors.

Detroit's Chinatown began in 1872 when Chinese laundrymen first settled in the city at Third Avenue and Porter Street. A new wave of immigrants led by five Chinese families open restaurants, grocery stores, and a Chinese school between 1910 and the late 1950's. Chinatown relocated to Cass Avenue and Peterboro Street in 1963, where it experienced some success before political and social changes led to its decline is 1987. This is where the Chinatown marker currently stands, just outside the former Chung's Restaurant.

"There have been revitalization efforts in the early 20th century," Zuzindlak said. "Student groups did get together to try to clean up the area, bring attention to the facades, paint the old Chinese buildings as well as they established a mural remembering the Vincent Chin case of 1982-87."

A video portion of the exhibit provides visitors in-depth interviews of three Chinatown residents who offer a look into the old neighborhood's history and culture. Visitors will also find out why Chinatown disappeared, what are the plans for preserving Chinatown's artifacts and the recent rise in Asian businesses in local suburbs.

The new exhibit titled, "Detroit's Chinatown: Work in Progress", is presented in English and standard Mandarin Chinese and will be open through Sunday, July 5 at the Detroit Historical Museum's Community Gallery. It is the first bilingual exhibit in the museum's history.

"Some of the highlights of this exhibit are certainly the artifacts," the curator said. "The photography in the exhibit both old and new is really fun to look at. It's colorful and it depicts a lot of the Chinese cultural celebrations and that's really fun for general visitors to the exhibit. This exhibit was sponsored by Wayne State University, my alma mater."

The museum is also showing "Detroit's Classic Television Personalities" in the Kresge Gallery.

The Detroit Historical Museum is located at 5401 Woodward Ave. (NW corner of Kirby) in Detroit’s Cultural Center. Regular hours are Wednesday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from Noon to 5 p.m. On Mondays and Tuesdays, the Museum is not open to the public but available for group tours by calling (313) 833-7979. Adult admission is $6. Seniors (60+), college students with valid college ID, and youth ages 5-18 pay $4. Admission for children ages four and under is free. Parking in the Museum’s lot is $4 at all times. For more information, call the Museum at (313) 833-1805 or check out our website at www.detroithistorical.org.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Chung's Restaurant is located along Cass Avenue in Detroit. It is closed and as you can see graffiti is painted on the side of the building.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Photos inside the Chinatown exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

A historical photo of the recently-demolished Chin Tiki Restaurant.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

A historical photo of the Chinatown Marker and Sabb's Bar when it was open for business.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Graffiti under the sign at Chung's Restaurant.

 

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