Theses Master's

Perceiving the Spirit of Manhattan’s Chinatown: A Study of the Evolution and Preservation of the Signage Designed for Historic Chinese Association Buildings

Yang, Tianchi

It is a common experience to be caught by the overwhelming signs when walking through the streets of Manhattan’s Chinatown. However, lying among the normal, modern commercial signage are some traditional signs, most of which are for historic family, district and merchant associations. Traditional signage plays an important role in Chinese architecture to identify a building or a place, and communicate the spirit of the place through calligraphy. In the early years of Chinese arrival to the East Coast of the United States, these kinds of association were founded for the purpose of allowing members to support each other, and the signage for them came into being as a tradition from China. If an analogy is drawn between the stores and restaurants of Manhattan’s Chinatown and leaves of a tree, then the associations will be the roots of that tree. Some of the surviving signs date back to the turn of the 20th century, and some are newer replacements in traditional or evolutionary forms. Yet hanging on the facades or the interior halls, they are rarely recognized with respect for their values to the association headquarters and Manhattan’s Chinatown. The intent of this thesis is to uncover and interpret the signage for associations in Manhattan’s Chinatown so as to inspire the appreciation of this signage, which is closely tied up with the spirit of Manhattan’s Chinatown, by both Chinese and people from other cultures. To critically study the histories of evolution and preservation of this signage, including the changing ways of how the signage and buildings are related, this thesis will focus on four case studies: Lin Sing Association, On Leong Chinese Merchants Association, Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and Lee’s Family Association. The thesis then further discusses the significance of the signage for associations to Chinatown, the appropriateness and feasibility to preserve the extant historic signage, and other preservation issues of signage in the analysis and conclusion.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Dolkart, Andrew S.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
September 17, 2014