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Chinatown, Chicago facts for kids

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For the neighborhood also known as New Chinatown, see West Argyle Street Historic District.
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Chinatown, Chicago
Cermak Road including the Chinatown Gate over Wentworth Avenue
Cermak Road including the Chinatown Gate over Wentworth Avenue
Map of Chinatown
Map of Chinatown
Country United States
City Chicago
Community areas Armour Square
First settled 1912
 • Estimate 
ZIP code

The Chinatown neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois, is on the South Side (located in the Armour Square community area), centered on Cermak and Wentworth Avenues, and is an example of an American Chinatown, or ethnic-Chinese neighborhood. By the 2000 Census, Chicago Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area had 68,021 Chinese. The combined 60616 and 60608 zip codes in Chicago, as of the 2010 Census, were home to 22,380 people of Chinese descent. In addition, as of 2010, the Chicago-Joliet-Naperville IL-IN-WI metro area had 92,712 people of Chinese descent. Chicago is the second oldest settlement of Chinese in America after the Chinese fled persecution in California. The present Chicago Chinatown formed about 1915, after settlers moved steadily south from near the Loop where the first enclaves were established in the 19th century.

Chinatown is sometimes confused with an area on the city's North Side sometimes referred to as "New Chinatown", which is centered on Argyle Street and is somewhat of a misnomer given that it is largely represented by people of Southeast Asian heritage.


Looking to escape the anti-Chinese violence that had broken out on the west coast, the first Chinese arrived in Chicago after 1869 when the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed. By the late 1800s, 25% of Chicago's approximately 600 Chinese residents settled along Clark Street between Van Buren and Harrison Streets in Chicago's Loop. In 1889, 16 Chinese-owned businesses were located along the two-block stretch, including eight grocery stores, two butcher shops and a restaurant. In 1912, the Chinese living in this area began moving south to Armour Square. Some historians say this was due to increasing rent prices. Others see more complex causes: discrimination, overcrowding, a high non-Chinese crime rate, and disagreements between the two associations ("tongs") within the community, the Hip Sing Tong and the On Leong Tong. The move to the new South Side Chinatown was led by the On Leong Merchants Association who, in 1912, had a building constructed along Cermak Avenue (then 22nd Street) that could house 15 stores, 30 apartments and the Association's headquarters. While the building's design was typical of the period, it also featured Chinese accents such as tile trim adorned with dragons.

Chicago Chinatown night
Evening along Wentworth Avenue just south of Cermak Road, looking northward

In the 1920s, Chinese community leaders secured approximately 50 ten-year leases on properties in the newly developing Chinatown. Because of severe racial discrimination, these leases needed to be secured via an intermediary, H. O. Stone Company. Jim Moy, then-director of the On Leong Merchants Association, then decided that a Chinese-style building should be constructed as a strong visual announcement of the Chinese community's new presence in the area. With no Chinese-born architects in Chicago at the time, Chicago-born Norse architects Christian S. Michaelsen and Sigurd A. Rognstad were asked to design the new On Leong Merchants Association Building in spring, 1926. Michaelsen and Rognstad drew their final design after studying texts on Chinese architecture. When the building opened in 1928 at a cost of a million dollars, it was the finest large Chinese-style structure in any North American Chinatown. The On Leong Association allowed the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association to put its headquarters in the new building and also used it as an immigrant assistance center, a school, a shrine, a meeting hall, and office space for the Association itself. It was often informally referred to as Chinatown's "city hall." In 1928, Michaelsen and Rognstad designed two other buildings in the area—Won Kow Restaurant, Chinatown's oldest restaurant, and the Moy Shee D.K Association Building, the former receiving a two-story addition in 1932.

During the late 1980s, a group of Chinatown business leaders bought 32 acres (130,000 m2) property north of Archer Avenue from the Santa Fe Railway and built Chinatown Square, a two-level mall consisting of restaurants, beauty salons and law offices, flanked by 21 new townhouses. Additional residential construction, such as the Santa Fe Gardens, a 600-unit village of townhouses, condominiums and single-family homes still under construction on formerly industrial land to the north. Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the new addition was the creation of Ping Tom Memorial Park in 1999; located on the bank of the Chicago River, the park features a Chinese-style pavilion that many consider to be the most beautiful in the Midwest.

Historical images of Chinatown can be found in Explore Chicago Collections, a digital repository made available by Chicago Collections archives, libraries and other cultural institutions in the city.


As of 2013 about 8,000 people lived within Chinatown itself, and 90% were ethnic Chinese. As of that year many of the residents were elderly.

As of 1990 about 10,000 Chinese lived in Chinatown's business district and the area south of 26th street, and several Italian Americans still remained in the neighborhood.

Landmarks and attractions

Nine-Dragon Wall
  • Chinatown Mural, a mural showing the history of Chinese immigrants in United States
  • Chinatown Square, Shopping area opened in 1993. Decorated with sculptures of animals in the Chinese zodiac
  • Wentworth Avenue, with shopping, restaurants, and landmarks, including the Chinatown Gate
  • Pui Tak Center was designated a Chicago Landmark on December 1, 1993. It was the On Leong Merchants Association Building.
  • Chinese-American Museum of Chicago, conducts research and exhibits objects and pictures relating to the history of Chinese in the American Midwest. The museum experienced a fire on September 19, 2008 and was temporarily closed. Thanks to strong community support, it reopened in the fall of 2010 with improved facilities.
  • Ping Tom Memorial Park, Opened in 1999 with Chinese gardens on the northern edge of Chinatown along the Chicago River
  • Chicago Fire Department Engine 8 Company firehouse, firehouse used in the 1991 Ron Howard film Backdraft
  • Chinatown Gate, which spans Wentworth Avenue at the intersection of Cermak Road, designed by Peter Fung


A 1942 article from the Chicago Tribune stated that the strong family ties among the residents of Chinatown meant that there was little juvenile delinquency present in the community.


The Dan Ryan Expressway and the Stevenson Expressway intersect over the southside of Chinatown. The Stevenson's exit 293A (northbound exit and southbound entrances) gives Chinatown commuters immediate access to the expressways via Cermak Road, only one block east of Wentworth Avenue. There is metered street parking throughout the area, as well as two pay parking lots located on Wentworth Avenue.

Several forms of public transportation are also available in Chinatown. The Chicago Transit Authority operates both an elevated train and four bus routes that service the area. The Red Line, the CTA's busiest transit route, stops 24/7 at the Cermak–Chinatown station located in the heart of Chinatown near the corner of Cermak Road and Wentworth Avenue. Running north–south, the #24 bus route runs on Wentworth Avenue on the eastside of Chinatown, while the #44 route runs on Canal Street on the westside. The #21 runs east–west on Cermak Road, and the #62 runs southwest–northeast on Archer Avenue. There is a taxicab stand on Wentworth Avenue, and a water taxi service also runs along the Chicago River from Michigan Avenue to Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chinatown during the summer months.

Annual events

Chicago Chinatown 100 Years
Chicago Chinatown's 100 Year Anniversary
  • Chinese New Year Festival
  • Dragon Boat Races

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