Where was New Orleans' Chinatown of the 1800s-1900s?
Chinatown was located downtown, mostly at the 1100 block of Tulane Avenue between South Rampart and Saratoga streets near Elk Place. After the Civil War, Louisiana sugar planters hired Chinese laborers as field workers, emulating Cuba and other Caribbean countries. Over time, the workers shifted from agricultural work on the outskirts of the city to jobs within the city.
According to Richard Campanella, a geographer with the Tulane School of Architecture, the reason that particular area of downtown attracted the Chinese was because of the missionary work of Lena Saunders, who moved from Boston to New Orleans in 1881 to teach English, Christianity and the mores of American culture to Chinese immigrants. To support her efforts, the Presbyterian Church bought a building at 215 S. Liberty St., next to the church. The building was known as the Chinese Mission and became very popular among its targeted population. As a result, Chinese businesses and organizations increased in this area.
Due to economic competition and racial tension, strict immigration laws were enacted, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned Chinese laborers from entering the U.S. Despite the law, The Times-Picayune reported on Nov. 9, 1898 that Chinatown planned to publish its own newspaper focusing on commerce, trade and the advantages of working and living near the Port of New Orleans.
The lack of new immigrants, however, affected the fate of Chinatown, as did assimilation and relocation. A Times-Picayune article in 1920 reported, "The Chinatown of New Orleans is becoming thoroughly Americanized." In 1926, The Presbyterian Church sold the building at 215 S. Liberty St. and moved the Chinese Mission to 223 S. Roman St. Chinese residents became less reliant on Chinatown, and in 1937 that block of Tulane Avenue was scheduled for demolition. Chinatown relocated to the 500 and 600 blocks of Bourbon Street, where it remained in a smaller version for more than 40 years.
In 1952, the Chinese Mission was moved to Mid-City, and four years later it was renamed the Chinese Presbyterian Church. It moved to West Esplanade Avenue in 1997, after most of its members relocated to Kenner. The original location of Chinatown is mostly unused today, but an abandoned building at 1111 Tulane Ave. is available for lease.