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Don't forget it, Jake: Fresno's Chinatown at a crossroads

The Bullet Train is a Source of Anger and Hope

Of course, Chinatown wouldn’t be Chinatown if it were squeaky clean from one end to the other. Omachi helps fund the activities of Chinatown advocates by conducting paid tours of the neighborhood’s tunnels. Those underground passageways weren’t built back in the day as a shortcut to the Gottschalks department store.

It’s the bullet train that is the disruptor of unprecedented force.

The east side of G Street is already no-man’s land, denuded (except for the old Jensen-Pilegard shop) of life and buildings. It’s along here that the bullet train’s tracks will go. The infrastructure for those rails will be imposing.

“They say they’re trying to build Downtown Fresno,” said Chef Paul’s Pearson. “But when they say Downtown Fresno, they never mention Chinatown. Then they say they’re going to build a wall – when I say a wall, I’m talking about the railroad tracks over there. High-speed rail. I believe Chinatown is part of Downtown Fresno. But if they build a wall, they’re saying Downtown Fresno stops just east of the tracks.”

The Cosmopolitan restaurant, long a fixture at the northeast edge of Chinatown, moved last summer to new digs on a corner of the Convention Center parking lot. Credit (or blame) the bullet train project.

The High-Speed Rail Authority is supposed to start work this summer on the Tulare Avenue underpass between Downtown’s H Street and Chinatown’s G Street. That means one of the main entryways to Chinatown from Downtown will be out of commission up to F Street for a long time.

A small food store and an even smaller boot store operate out of a building on the south side of Tulare between G and F. High-Speed Rail officials promise to provide plenty of signage so customers know the stores are still open.

Many spots among Chinatown’s 16 blocks are fields or buildings undergoing the slow process of demolition by neglect.

“When you have some juice with the powers that be, you may be able to survive what’s going on with high-speed rail,” Omachi said. “But Chinatown doesn’t have the juice. We don’t have the support.”

Is there hope for Chinatown? Of course.

The place is home to popular restaurants, among them Chef Paul’s, Cuca’s and the Ho Ho Kafe. There is the beloved Central Fish Company. I know from years of firsthand experience that Ofelia’s Barber Shop on Kern Street delivers a great product.

There are other fine businesses in Chinatown. But 16 city blocks is a lot of space to fill up.

The Redevelopment Agency with its power of eminent domain is dead. Hard to tell whether that’s good or bad for Chinatown.

Plans gathering dust at City Hall talk about a park or two in Chinatown. I wouldn’t guess how a bunch of green space a short walk from the Rescue Mission would turn out.

There’s always the Fresno Housing Authority with its high-density residential projects. But housing advocates are already complaining about the high concentration of low-rent apartment complexes in poorer parts of town.

City officials tell me they’re all set to help should investors show a serious interest in Chinatown.

How’s that for government initiative?

Finally, there’s the bullet train. The $100 billion project connecting Southern California to the Bay Area via the San Joaquin Valley with 200-miles-per-hour trains is supposed to deliver economic miracles in every neighborhood within spitting distance of a depot.

All that remains is for someone to find the money to complete the network.

George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

5 Comments

  1. And where will all of our ‘homeless’ people be along with the rest of the broken window issues? How will these issues be kept out of sight?

  2. The proposed solution to Chinatown about 30 years ago was to condemn it, level it and peddle the vacant land to Ed Kashian to redevelop as a modern commercial area. This idea surfaced after Highway City fought a similar proposal off. The Chinatown folks battled to keep Kashian out. Over the years since, Chinatown has been slowly dying. Quite a few of the older buildings have burned down and the homeless have gradually taken the area over.

  3. I love the free parking in China Town and often go there for a good meal though was saddened when Paris Cafe literally gave up the ghost. I also miss Come & Get It Chicken & Waffles. Give people a reason to go somewhere, and they will go. Wish the city would help small businesses get a foothold in China Town.

  4. I driven through Chinatown yesterday and COULDN’T BELIEVE how decimated and barron it looked. The homeless people took it over smh. I remember going there as a kid. Fish mamasan giving me a toy every time I went into Central Fish. Its very very sad to see the current condition of Chinatown. I’m not really sure if HSR will help it. It will create basically a wall to divide DTF and chinatown.

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