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Mott Street

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Mott Street

Mott Street
Typical American fire escapes on Mott Street
Former name(s) Old Street; Winne Street
Postal code 10012, 10013
North end Bleecker Street
South end Chatham Square

Mott Street (Chinese: 勿街; pinyin: Wùjiē; Jyutping: Mat6gaai1) is a narrow but busy thoroughfare that runs in a north–south direction in the New York City borough of Manhattan. It is regarded as Chinatown's unofficial "Main Street". Mott Street runs from Chatham Square in the south to Bleecker Street in the north. It is a one-way street with southbound-running vehicular traffic. The street is named after Lucretia Mott


  • History 1
    • Beginnings 1.1
    • Early configuration 1.2
    • Historic Cantonese gangs 1.3
  • Description 2
    • In Chinatown 2.1
      • As Chinatown's "Main Street" 2.1.1
      • Culture 2.1.2
    • In Nolita 2.2
  • Structures 3
    • Chinese Community Centre 3.1
    • Business 3.2
      • Chinese Tuxedo Restaurant 3.2.1
      • Port Arthur Restaurant 3.2.2
      • Soy Kee & Company 3.2.3
      • Mott Street General Store 3.2.4
  • In popular culture 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7



Contemporary view of 65 Mott Street, considered one of Chinatown's first tenements

Ah Ken is claimed to have arrived in the area during the 1840s; he is the first Chinese person credited as having permanently immigrated to Chinatown. As a Cantonese businessman, Ah Ken eventually founded a successful cigar store on Park Row.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9] He first arrived around 1858 in New York City, where he was "probably one of those Chinese mentioned in gossip of the sixties [1860s] as peddling 'awful' cigars at three cents apiece from little stands along the City Hall park fence – offering a paper spill and a tiny oil lamp as a lighter", according to author Alvin Harlow in Old Bowery Days: The Chronicles of a Famous Street (1931).[3]

Later immigrants would similarly find work as "cigar men" or carrying billboards, and Ah Ken's particular success encouraged cigar makers William Longford, John Occoo, and John Ava to also ply their trade in Chinatown, eventually forming a monopoly on the cigar trade.[10] It has been speculated that it may have been Ah Ken who kept a small boarding house on lower Mott Street and rented out bunks to the first Chinese immigrants to arrive in Chinatown. It was with the profits he earned as a landlord, earning an average of $100 a month, that he was able to open his Park Row smoke shop around which modern-day Chinatown would grow.[1][5][11][12][13][14]

Early configuration

Mott Street existed in its current configuration by the mid-18th century. At that time, Mott Street passed just to the east of the Collect Pond; Collect Park today is three blocks to the west at Centre Street. Like many streets that predated Manhattan's grid, Mott Street meandered around natural features of the landscape rather than running through or over them. It was the need to avoid the now-long since paved-over Collect Pond that gave Mott Street its characteristic "bend" to the northeast at Pell Street.

Having been previously known as Old Street, as well as Winne Street (also spelled Wynne) for the section between Pell and Bleecker, Mott Street was renamed in the late 18th century to honor the prominent local family of the same name, likely in particular businessman Joseph Mott, a butcher and tavern owner who provided support to the rebel forces in the American Revolution.[15]

During the 19th century the lower portion of Mott Street south of Canal Street was part of the Five Points, a notorious slum neighborhood in New York City. In 1872 Wo Kee, a Chinese merchant opened a general store on Mott Street near Pell Street. In the years to follow, Chinese immigrants would carve out an enclave around the intersection of Mott, Doyer and Pell Streets. At the time, it was the Cantonese immigrants migrating and it first began as a very small Bachelor's Society since it was mostly Chinese males migrating over at the time. It was mostly Cantonese immigrants coming from Taishan, China so as a result it was first a Taishanese community.[16][17] That all changed during the 1960s when an influx of other Cantonese immigrants from Hong Kong began to arrive over with some Taiwanese immigrants as well. As a result, Chinatown began expanding quickly and Standard Cantonese, which is spoken in Guangzhou, China and in Hong Kong became the dominant language of the Chinatown neighborhood. At the time, Chinatown was emerging and growing as a[18] Little Hong Kong, but the growth slowed down later on.[19][20][21][22] Manhattan's Chinatown has grown into the largest Chinatown in the United States, engulfing a large swath of the Lower East Side. But the historic heart of Chinatown, as well as the primary destination for tourists is still Mott Street between Canal Street and Chatham Square. This is center of what is known as the Old Chinatown of Manhattan.[23][24]

Historic Cantonese gangs

For more than twenty years Cantonese gangs based on Mott street terrorized Chinatown. The protection racket whereby shopkeepers paid the gangs a negotiated cash fee for protection during the period of the 1980s and 1990s, which often involved tea during the negotiation and it was often very peaceful.

The gangs also acted as runners in the Chinatown Connection heroin trade between the Canadian border and spreading it throughout New York. On Leong Gang was like most Chinatown gangs in the past running a legitimate enterprise, serving as a business collective, a crutch for immigrants, even a loan company. The Ghost Shadows were very seriously territorial of Mott Street and one example was a situation where The Ghost Shadows had spotted a White Eagle member walking alone and then kidnapped him into a car and threw him in the East River attempting to drown him. In the 1970s, the street was the most violent gang-related period in Chinatown. Gunshots often happened and sometimes tourists would be unintentionally injured. Other gangs that existed were Chung Yee, Liang Shan, the Flying Dragons, the White Eagles and the Black Eagles[25][26][27]


In Chinatown

As Chinatown's "Main Street"

Looking north at Mott and Pell Streets at night
Mott Street at Chatham Square; a Citibank is in the foreground

Today this stretch of Mott Street is lined with souvenir shops, tea houses and restaurants, including Wo Hop restaurant at 17 Mott Street and 15 Mott Street, all catering largely to tourists. In 2003, the 32 Mott Street General Store closed due to the effects of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the Chinatown economy. The proximity of the attack along with street closures in lower Manhattan (especially the ongoing closure of Park Row under 1 Police Plaza) had cut off much business to Chinatown. 32 Mott had been the longest continuously operating store in Chinatown, established in 1891.

Mott Street north of Canal Street was historically part of Little Italy. Today it is predominantly Chinese. This section of Mott Street between roughly Canal and Broome Streets has a number of Chinese-owned fish and vegetable markets, as well as some remaining Italian businesses. The commercial establishments here cater more to the day-to-day needs of Chinatown residents than tourists. There are also shops that sell baby jackets, bamboo hats, and miniature buddhas.

This portion of Chinatown along with the rest of the western portion of Chinatown still continues to be the main center of the Cantonese community since the beginning of Chinatown and the main Chinese business commercial district for the whole Chinatown neighborhood or known as the unofficial center of Chinatown. The western portion of Chinatown is also what was the original size and historic part of Manhattan's Chinatown or known as the Old Chinatown of Manhattan[23][24] until the eastern part of Chinatown just east of the Bowery became more fully developed due to the influx of Fuzhou immigrants primarily on the East Broadway and Eldridge Street portion, which became the new Chinatown.[28] The Bowery, which once served as the borderline of Chinatown is now[29] the divider between the Cantonese and Fuzhou communities.[30]

It continues to be a business district catering to not only the Cantonese customers of the Lower East Side, but also to Cantonese people that reside in more affluent places that are also important customers to Chinatown's businesses. The western portion of Chinatown is also a Little Hong Kong (小香港 Xiǎo Xiānggǎng), which was a name that was used at one point to describe Manhattan's Chinatown when the Hong Kong immigrants were pouring into the Chinatown neighborhood and even though not all the Cantonese immigrants are from Hong Kong, this portion of Chinatown has strong Cantonese characteristics, especially with Standard Cantonese language, which is spoken in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China being used widely.[18][19]

A new branch of New York Mart opened up on August 2011 on Mott Street.[31] Just a block away from New York Mart is a Hong Kong Supermarket located on the corner of Elizabeth and Hester Streets. These two supermarkets are among the largest Cantonese supermarkets in Chinatown.[32]


Little Guangdong (小廣東 Xiǎo Guǎngdōng) or Cantonese Town (廣東埠 Guǎngdōng Bù) would be the more appropriate term since Cantonese immigrants do come from different parts of Guangdong province of China. Most of the Chinatown Chinese-businesses still continue to be Cantonese-owned combining with still significant numbers of Cantonese residents of the Lower East Side and Cantonese from other areas contributing to the Chinatown businesses has allow Cantonese to continue to be Chinatown's lingua franca even though Mandarin as Chinatown's other lingua franca is increasing. Despite the large Fuzhou population to the eastern section of Chinatown, though, Cantonese is still predominant in Mott Street with the rest of the western portion of Chinatown. The long time established Cantonese community stretches onto Pell, Doyer, Bayard, Elizabeth, Mulberry, and Canal Streets and on Bowery in Manhattan's Chinatown.[33][34][35]

Due to the migration of Cantonese immigrants into Bensonhurst and Sheepshead Bay/Homecrest sections of Brooklyn, newer Cantonese enclaves or Brooklyn's Little Hong Kong/Guangdong (布魯克林的小香港/廣東 Bùlǔkè Lín De Xiǎo Xiānggǎng/Guǎngdōng) have started to emerge in those areas, but as of the 2010s, they are still mixed in with other ethnic enclaves and still developing.

In Nolita

A busy scene on Mott Street, looking north in NoLIta

Also in this area is Old St. Patrick's Cathedral, the first Catholic cathedral built in New York (consecrated 1815). The high walls surrounding the church along Mott Street attest to the tension between Protestants and Catholics in New York during the 19th century. The Church of the Transfiguration was also built here, making it the oldest Roman Catholic church in Manhattan.

Mott Street terminates at Bleecker Street in Manhattan's NoHo (North of Houston Street) neighborhood.


Chinese Community Centre

The Chinese Community Centre (left; building with flag of Taiwan)

The Chinese Community Centre spans 60-64 Mott Street. 62 Mott Street is home to the

  • Mott Street storefronts (photos of stores and properties on Mott Street)
  • Mott Street from the old days
  • Mott Street of 1960s – This is the southern part of Mott Street from the 1960s
  • Mott Street General Store – Front Pictures of Mott Street General Store
  • Mott Street General Store – Insider view of Mott Street General Store
  • Port Arthur Restaurant Color version of Port Arthur Restaurant
  • Port Arthur Restaurant – Black and white version of Port Arthur Restaurant=
  • Port Arthur Restaurant – Insider view of Port Arthur Restaurant


  • New York Songlines: Mott Street, a virtual walking tour

External links

  1. ^ a b Moss, Frank. The American Metropolis from Knickerbocker Days to the Present Time. London: The Authors' Syndicate, 1897. (pg. 403)
  2. ^ Asbury, Herbert. The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the New York Underworld. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928. (pg. 278–279) ISBN 1-56025-275-8
  3. ^ a b Harlow, Alvin F. Old Bowery Days: The Chronicles of a Famous Street. New York and London: D. Appleton & Company, 1931. (pg. 392)
  4. ^ Worden, Helen. The Real New York: A Guide for the Adventurous Shopper, the Exploratory Eater and the Know-it-all Sightseer who Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1932. (pg. 140)
  5. ^ a b Hemp, William H. New York Enclaves. New York: Clarkson M. Potter, 1975. (pg. 6) ISBN 0-517-51999-2
  6. ^ Wong, Bernard. Patronage, Brokerage, Entrepreneurship, and the Chinese Community of New York. New York: AMS Press, 1988. (pg. 31) ISBN 0-404-19416-8
  7. ^ Lin, Jan. Reconstructing Chinatown: Ethnic Enclave, Global Change. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998. (pg. 30–31) ISBN 0-8166-2905-6
  8. ^ Taylor, B. Kim. The Great New York City Trivia & Fact Book. Nashville: Cumberland House Publishing, 1998. (pg. 20) ISBN 1-888952-77-6
  9. ^ Ostrow, Daniel. Manhattan's Chinatown. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2008. (pg. 9) ISBN 0-7385-5517-7
  10. ^ Tchen, John Kuo Wei. New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776–1882. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. (pg. 82–83) ISBN 0-8018-6794-0
  11. ^ Federal Writers' Project. New York City: Vol 1, New York City Guide. Vol. I. American Guide Series. New York: Random House, 1939. (pg. 104)
  12. ^ Marcuse, Maxwell F. This Was New York!: A Nostalgic Picture of Gotham in the Gaslight Era. New York: LIM Press, 1969. (pg. 41)
  13. ^ Chen, Jack. The Chinese of America. New York: Harper & Row, 1980. (pg. 258) ISBN 0-06-250140-2
  14. ^ Hall, Bruce Edward. Tea That Burns: A Family Memoir of Chinatown. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002. (pg. 37) ISBN 0-7432-3659-9
  15. ^ Moscow, Henry. The Street Book: An Encyclopedia of Manhattan's Street Names and Their Origins. New York: Hagstrom, 1978. ISBN 0823212750
  16. ^ The new Chinatown – Peter Kwong – Google Books. Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  17. ^ Illegal immigration in America: a ... – David W. Haines, Karen Elaine Rosenblum – Google Books. Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  18. ^ a b Reluctant exiles?: migration from ... – Ronald Skeldon – Google Books. Google Books. December 24, 1986. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  19. ^ a b The Hong Kong reader: passage to ... – Ming K. Chan, Gerard A. Postiglione – Google Books. Google Books. July 1, 1997. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  20. ^ God in Chinatown: religion and ... – Kenneth J. Guest – Google Books. Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  21. ^ Semple, Kirk (October 21, 2009). "Mandarin Eclipses Cantonese, Changing the Sound of Chinatown". The New York Times (Chinatown (NYC)). Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  22. ^ Surviving the City: the Chinese ... – Xinyang Wang – Google Books. Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  23. ^ a b National Geographic Traveler: New ... – Michael S. Durham – Google Books. Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  24. ^ a b Frommer's Memorable Walks in New York – Reid Bramblett – Google Books. Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  25. ^ Kurutz, Steven (November 2, 2008). "The Voice – Author Henry Chang Raises the Veil on Crime in Chinatown". The New York Times (Chinatown (NYC)). Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  26. ^ "New York City Chinatown > Newspaper Articles". January 31, 1977. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  27. ^ "New York City Chinatown > Newspaper Articles". Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  28. ^ Surviving the City: the Chinese ... – Xinyang Wang – Google Books. Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  29. ^ "The Snakehead". 
  30. ^ Smuggled Chinese: clandestine ... – Ko-lin Chin – Google Books. Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  31. ^ "New Supermarket Opens on Mott Street in Chinatown". 
  32. ^ "Travel New York City - Illustrated Guide and Maps". 
  33. ^ Let's Go USA – Let's Go, Inc. – Google Books. Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  34. ^ The Rough Guide to New York – Andrew Rosenberg, Martin Dunford – Google Books. Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  35. ^ The power of urban ethnic places ... – Jan Lin – Google Books. Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  36. ^ "Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association". 
  37. ^ "Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association". 
  38. ^ "Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association". 
  39. ^ "New York Chinese School Website". Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  40. ^ American Chinatown: a people's ... – Bonnie Tsui – Google Books. Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  41. ^ a b "Gastropolis". 
  42. ^ "Manhattan's Chinatown". 
  43. ^
  44. ^ "Manhattan's Chinatown". 
  45. ^ "Gastropolis". 
  46. ^ "Untitled Document". 
  47. ^ "Access New York City 13e". 
  48. ^ "New York City". 
  49. ^ "100 New Yorkers". 
  50. ^ "Savory Sojourns Chinatown II Day Tour". 
  51. ^ "Gremlins 2 The New Batch Film Locations". New York Film Locations. 22 February 2015. Retrieved 18 April 2015. 


See also

  • In the well known song "Manhattan" by Rodgers and Hart, ..."And tell me what street / compares with Mott Street in July; / sweet push carts gently gliding by."
  • Mott Street is also mentioned in the song "Lost Boys Calling" by Roger Waters as part of the movie The Legend of 1900 (soundtrack) – "And in Mott street in July / When I hear those seabirds cry"
  • In a series of short stories by pulp-writer Arthur J. Burks (All Detective Magazine, 1933–34), undercover detective Dorus Noel maintains an apartment near the intersection of Pell and Mott Streets. Burks' Chinatown is riddled with underground passages (which he describes as "rabbit warrens"), and populated by sinister villains and an inexhaustible supply of self-sacrificing Chinese hatchetmen.
  • In an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, a BTK-esque killer hid a clue on top of a pay phone on the corners of Mott Street and Grand Street.
  • Revy, one of the main characters of the manga/anime Black Lagoon, is implied to have grown up on Mott Street.
  • In Garth Ennis' initial run on The Punisher, Frank Castle's apartment is located off of Mott Street.
  • In The Godfather Part II, the Genco Olive Oil company was located on Mott Street.
  • In David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner, Susan Ricci lives at 110 Mott Street, "above the Sunshine Bakery."
  • The Beastie Boys' "Three MCs and One DJ" music video was shot in a Mott Street building, which, according to the commentary on the Beastie Boys Video Anthology DVD, was also formerly home to Sonic Youth.
  • Mott Street was where "Ragged Dick" from the Horatio, Alger jr. story of the same name found his first "lodgings".
  • In AMC-TV series Rubicon, a safe house address is listed as 701 Mott Street, Apt 2D.
  • In Mobsters, Mott Street was referred to as the street where Lucky Luciano grew up and eventually rose to power.
  • In "Once Upon a Time in America" a Chinese man helps Noodles (Robert De Niro) to run away from the armed men trying to kill him through a door facing Mott Street. "There down. Mott Street. Go. Go. Go" says the Chinese man, encouraging Noodles to hurry up.
  • In the film Gremlins 2: The New Batch, the Chinatown antique store where Gizmo lived is located off of Mott Street.[51]

In popular culture

This is the oldest Chinese store that remained in the neighborhood for more than 100 years. The store name is Guong Yuen Shing, located in #32 Mott Street. The architecture designs rarely changed with some of the original wooden cabinetry remaining, carved arch above the counter, formal paintings of Chinese women hanging on walls and the original clock from when the shop first opened still continued to tick. The apothecary shelves that display traditional styles of Chinese rice bowls, tea sets, and jade dragons still remained as well. A carved woodwork that twist around the counter is where herbal remedies were once sold. The store sign that once took up the storefront's two box bays are held at the Museum of Chinese in America.[41][46][47][48][49][50]

In 1891, a Chinese man named Lok Lee opened up the Mott Street General store. This was the gathering place for the earliest Chinese immigrants to socialize and maintain their kin roots with family and friends. It was very especially important because Chinatown was primarily a bachelor's society. Due to discrimination within the immigration laws during old those days, Chinese men were not allowed to bring their families into America.

Mott Street General Store

Below the Port Arthur Restaurant, there was a store named Soy Kee and Company serving as an importer and exporter of Chinese goods selling curios, chinaware, lamps, imported Chinese silks, embroideries, ivory carvings, imported Chinese teas, candies, dried fruits, coffees, canned foods, kimonos, pajamas, and other types of accessories. Soy Kee and Company was originally located on 36 Pell Street, then moved to Mott Street in 1897 and then eventually moved outside of the Chinatown neighborhood.[44][45]

Soy Kee & Company

The restaurant served a special luncheon everyday from 11am-3pm except for holidays and Sundays. Eventually, an escalator was established in the restaurant to make it easier for customers to access the second and third floors where the restaurant was located in the building. This restaurant was very conveniently located near an elevated train at Chatham Square and subway station at Worth Street. During that time, and elevated train rail existed in the area.[43]

By 1910, the East Hall was redesigned to already have the long sized tables set up for banquets. To distinguish itself from the East Hall, the West Hall dining room had no walls or screens to divide the room and each table was set up only for four seats to accommodate smaller groups. There was also a special room for a bride's traditional change into different red dresses for various stages of the wedding reception.

The restaurant was known for its delicious Chinese style dishes and delicacies as well as Chinese style designs of the restaurant's dining halls with inlaid pearl mahogany tables, teakwood chairs, ornate wood carved panels, windscreens, lanterns, and chandeliers. The East Hall dining room had a baby grand piano for entertainment.

The entrance of the restaurant was an awning ornate pagoda-style and the Chinese pagoda-style balcony would eventually become a trademark for the rest of the period of the restaurant business. It was the first Chinese restaurant in NYC's Chinatown to obtain a liquor license. The upper floor dining rooms of the restaurant were reserved only for private parties and banquets, where many local Chinese residents held wedding parties and family ceremonial dinners while the lower floor was for smaller groups of customers or after hour slummers, which was termed at American tourists of the gay nineties who were in search for exotic adventures.

The Port Arthur Restaurant was also established in 1897 and operated for more than 85 years. Chu Gam Fai was the original owner who started this restaurant business. The restaurant's name was selected to be named after a city that was located in the northeastern China coast where the first victory of Asian power over European power had occurred in 1894. The restaurant was located on the second and third floors of 7–9 Mott Street.

Port Arthur Restaurant

The restaurant also had a private dining room and displayed American advertisements such as one example on record, Horton's ice cream including English and Chinese menus as a way to remind customers this restaurant is not located in China and located in America. On record, an omelet stuffed with chicken, lobster, and ham cost $2.00 on their menu. At the time, there was an elevated train rail conveniently next to the location.[42]

The inside restaurant designs were mosaic-designed tile floors and press tin ceilings with a chandelier and a large dragon design. The dining room displayed potted plants surrounding a water fountain, which contained wooden birds supported by a wooden dragon stand to make the restaurant appealing and also for Feng Shui and tabletops were made of inlaid marble. There were teakwood windscreens behind the fountain with the hand-carved design of double layered wood molding that was used as a room divider with curtains set up on them.

There were postcard pictures of this entrance and they were often distributed to customers of this restaurant for free. The restaurant was located on a balcony with carved teakwood panels that seemed to leap out from the rest of the building with the purpose of getting people's attention to it strolling through the streets. There were often many American customers in this restaurant.

In 1897, the Chinese Tuxedo Restaurant opened as a high class Chinese American Restaurant. The outside design of the restaurant's entrance was a colossal Chinese-Style awning, which was crowned with a large wooden carved Chinese dragon. At the entrance, there was a multi-colored stained glass sign with the word restaurant on it.

Chinese Tuxedo Restaurant

By 1903, there were four Chinese restaurants established such as Port Arthur, Tuxedo, Imperial, and Chinese Quick Lunch on Mott Street. Other earliest Chinese restaurants existed such as Chatham on Doyers Street and Savoy & Oriental Restaurant on Pell Street. These restaurants were often in competition with each other in the Chinatown community.[41]

From Canal Street, looking south at Mott Street
Street sign of Mott Street, showing alternative Chinese name, at the intersection with Canal Street


The New York Chinese School is at 64 Mott Street. Located inside the CCBA building, it is the largest Chinese school in North America and was established in 1909 during the Ching Dynasty of China as an overseas Chinese school. It is Chinatown's center of academic learning on Chinese culture, and history. Cantonese and Mandarin classes are also offered at this school, however the Mandarin programs have challenged the long time traditional dominance of Cantonese programs within the school.[38] This educational institution is affiliated with the CCBA due to its location.[39][40]

[37] Additional services that are provided to the community are low cost rate Adult English Classes, Naturalization Service, and free tax services.[36]

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