Image of post-fire Buddha statue from https://www.kcet.org/shows/departures/photos-china-city-recreating-a-small-chinese-village .
With the construction of the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal on the old Chinatown site, socialite and investor Christine Sterling created the China City tourist attraction near her Mexican themed Olvera Street north of downtown Los Angeles. Set buildings from the 1938 The Good Earth film were used.
“In February 1939, a suspicious fire (most likely arson) burned much of China City. After making repairs, Sterling reopened it in the summer of 1940. However, the rebuilt tourist center was not as successful as its previous incarnation.”
But there is more to the story:
“Around 1935, Old Chinatown community leader Peter Soo-Hoo, Sr. met with Christine Sperling, the person responsible for adapting Olvera Street into a Mexican themed shopping district. Sterling envisioned a new China City tourist district in downtown Los Angeles that played to popular Chinese themes. Soo-Hoo hated her idea, so he decided to pursue his own development project at another site.
“Soo-Hoo and Sterling became bitter rivals which intensified after construction began on their competing Chinatown projects. Sterling scoffed at Soo-Hoo and his supporters by telling the press, “What do they want? An Oriental Westwood Village? Let them build [New Chinatown] if they think they can get away with it, but I think it will fail.”
“Soo-Hoo, in return, argued that the Chinese-Americans were best suited to design and build a New Chinatown…
“Soo-Hoo’s New Chinatown opened three weeks later [than Sterling’s China City in 1938]. Not only was Soo-Hoo’s New Chinatown funded, owned, and operated by Chinese investors and businesses, it provided homes for displaced Chinese, while Sterling’s did not. New Chinatown also reflected a more authentic Chinese culture and clientele.
“The competing business districts factionalized Chinese residents. China City’s shopkeepers and workers were grateful for the opportunity to find work in Sterling’s business district and were happy with the influx of celebrities and tourists. New Chinatown’s shopkeepers and business owners, however, felt that China City’s vendors mocked their culture by offering rickshaw rides and selling ‘Chinaburgers.’”
Excerpts and image from https://bizarrela.com/2016/12/china-city/ .