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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Oct 9, 2023

As many as 400 Chinese Americans lived in a neighborhood called Hop Alley at its height in the early 20th century. Located at the corner of Market and Chestnut, the thriving community not only served as a refuge from overt racism but also as a small reflection of a culture left behind. Just press play to hear the whole story. -------

Click on search links to explore episodes with related content: Maggie Sullivan, Asian American - Pacific Islander American History,  Landmark Locations, Immigration, Business, ------

Podcast Transcript: I'm Maggie Sullivan, Researcher at the Missouri History Museum and Here's History on 88.1 KDHX. -------

St. Louis is known for diverse neighborhoods shaped by strong immigrant communities, the Hill, Carondelet, Bevo Mill, Dutchtown. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, downtown was home to St. Louis' very first Chinatown. As many as 400 Chinese Americans lived in a neighborhood called Hop Alley at its height in the early 20th century. The first Chinese immigrant to St. Louis was a young man named Alla Lee, who arrived in 1857. He settled in the Irish quarter near Biddle Street and married an Irish woman, Sarah Graham, sealing his acceptance into the Irish community. Lee ran a tea shop, his social standing and connection to the Irish keeping him and his children from the grueling work of a laundry business. -------

Most Chinese immigrant families in America ran laundries, a job that left little time for recreation and relaxation. They serviced mostly European Americans rather than their own communities. When launders finished their work or took a day off, they hurried to Hop Alley to spend time with their fellow countrymen and enjoy an atmosphere like their hometowns. -------

A small city block bordered by Market and Chestnut, St. Louis’ Chinatown served as a refuge for Chinese culture. It was also a community center for people frequently harassed and persecuted by racial discrimination. With most of the laundry shops located outside Hop Alley, there were groceries, restaurants, tea shops and everything else Chinese Americans needed inside Hop Alley. As time passed, tea shops and restaurants attracted European Americans who previously disapproved of their Chinese neighbors. -------

The Chinese residents and business owners of Hop Alley introduced their culture to curious St. Louisans. Many Chinese St. Louisans learned English and American traditions at Sunday School. Even well to do Chinese families or those who converted to Christianity or spoke English fluently would return to Hop Alley for celebrations such as Chinese New Year, or weekly gatherings to share traditional home cuisine. ------

Hop Alley was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the second Busch Stadium. By then most Chinese American families had moved further west into the city or the suburbs. Photos remain attesting to the vibrancy of St. Louis' first Chinatown. ------

Here's History is a joint production of the Missouri History Museum and KDHX. I'm Maggie Sullivan and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis.