CHINATOWN: HOP ALLEY



By the 1950s, the south end of downtown St. Louis was home to almost 300 Chinese Americans. This area known as Chinatown, and more commonly as "Hop Alley," was the industrial and cultural domain of the Chinese American immigrants that migrated to the St. Louis area from other national cities, such as San Francisco, in search of economic prosperity. Within the confines of Seventh, Tenth, Walnut and Chestnut Streets existed a rich culture that remained unnoticed by the majority of its neighboring communities. To those who did notice, Chinatown remained a mystery. It was thought of only as a home to Chinese hand laundries, Asian restaurants and illegally operated opium dens. In fact the term "Hop Alley" is believed to refer to opium users, commonly known as "hop heads." A lot of crime occurred in this area, and many buildings were either condemned or in very poor condition.

What most St. Louisans did not know was that Chinatown was rich in culture, complete with its own government and mixture of Christianity and Chinese customs. It was home to the local chapter of the On Leong Merchants and Laborers Association, a national organization that aided Chinese American businessmen. This association also served as a community heritage center, which hosted the annual Chinese New Year celebration. And while this area did house several Chinese owned and operated businesses such as hand laundries and restaurants, it also housed many professional Chinese businesses, such as doctor and dentist offices.

By 1958, plans to build Busch Stadium and its surrounding amusements were well underway. The Chamber of Commerce had condemned most of the Chinatown area, and many St. Louisans felt this was a positive step toward urban renewal. By 1966, all of the Downtown Chinatown had disappeared. Walk the streets of Chinatown to find out what it was like and why it disappeared.

To see what this district looked like after the construction find the red cube in the virtual city and click on it!