Herbs, Ginger & Spaghetti

A stroll through Chinatown is always quite an experience. Even though it is a tourist destination, the overwhelming majority of people one sees are Chinese. The babble of voices around one is Chinese. All shops sport Chinese lettering, although the larger ones also give at least their names in English too. Not all of them, mind you, but one does try to accommodate the “round eyes”.


This is Chinatown, quite obviously.

However, when one walks down the crowded main street of the quarter, suddenly one sees this strange sight:


An Italian Restaurant? In Chinatown? Yes. Of course. Because what is Chinatown today was until approximately 1920-1930 the largest Italian community in Los Angeles. The former Chinatown was located in the area where today Union Station stands.

When the plans for building Union Station were drawn up, the decision was made to relocate the old Chinatown by about a mile, adjacent to the Italian quarter. The good Italians took a close look at their new neighbors and fled. Herbs, ginger and spaghetti did not mix well in their opinion. The main thrust of the evacuating Italians was in the direction of Lincoln Heights, but one would be hard pressed to make out any significantly Italian area in Los Angeles today. The Italians by that time and a bit later were so much assimilated into the American culture that they did not need a quarter of their own any longer and dispersed themselves all over Los Angeles.

The only “relic” of that time was Little Joe’s. Yes, sadly, was – the restaurant had to close down in 1998, due to the fact that the structure was not retrofitted to withstand earthquakes. The building is still there, as is the sign; the location is available for filming today.

The city has toyed around with plans to use the building – after retrofitting – as yet another store location for Chinatown. Which brings up the interesting question: How does one write “Little Joe’s” in Chinese characters?

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