History and museums
Chinatown (Simplified Chinese: 中国城, Hanyu Pinyin: Zhōngguóchéng) is a community in southwestern Houston, Texas, United States. It is roughly bounded by Fondren, Beechnut, State Highway 6, and Westpark, west of Bellaire in the Alief area. The naming of the new Chinatown is disputed, as various ethnic groups live within the community. Portions of Chinatown lie within the Greater Sharpstown, International, and Westchase management districts.
There is another Chinatown called "Old Chinatown" located within the East Downtown Houston district near the George R. Brown Convention Center.
The first businesses of the new Houston Chinatown opened in 1983. In the 1980s increasing numbers of Chinese were living in Southwest Houston and Fort Bend County and those residents were further away from the old Chinatown in what is now East Downtown. The new Chinatown began to expand in the 1990s when Houston-area Asian American entrepreneurs moved their businesses from older neighborhoods, especially the "Old Chinatown" on the eastern end of Downtown Houston (in the process of redevelopment), in a search for more inexpensive properties and lower crime rates (at the time).
In 2005 Christy Chang, a tour operator who operated tours into Chinatown, said "This area is not just Chinatown anymore. If anything, it's Asia Town" due to the presence of various ethnic groups that developed in the community. The Asian American Business Council estimated that between 2004 and 2008 the land values along Bellaire Boulevard in Chinatown increased between 25 and 50 percent. In 2008 the group estimated that 2,000,000 square feet (190,000 m2) in construction would appear in the following two-year period. The group estimated that the construction would include high end condominiums. Lisa Gray of the Houston Chronicle stated that the development of the remaining acreage would likely cause rents to increase and that, compared to many other Chinatowns in the United States, the Houston Chinatown is still relatively inexpensive.
In 2008 the Asian American Business Council placed a contest to design a "landmark monument" to be placed on Bellaire Boulevard between Beltway 8 and Gessner Road in order to increase visibility among Asian Americans and non-Asian Americans and to beautify the area.
The Bellaire Chinatown is about 12 miles (19 km) southwest of Downtown Houston. It is over 6 square miles (16 km2), making it among the largest automobile-centric Chinatowns in the United States. The Chinatown, located on a mostly treeless plain, is, according to Lori Rodriguez of the Houston Chronicle, roughly bounded by Fondren, Beechnut, State Highway 6, and Westpark, west of Bellaire. The half of the Rodriguez definition of Chinatown inside Beltway 8 is within the Greater Sharpstown district. The Greater Sharpstown Management District defines Chinatown within its borders as being a 2.37-square-mile (6.1 km2) area bounded roughly by Beltway 8, the Westpark Tollway, Beechnut, and Redding. Much of western Chinatown under the Rodriguez definition lies within the International Management District. A portion of the Rodriguez definition of Chinatown lies within the Westchase district. The community is between Westchase and the City of Sugar Land. Katharine Shilcutt of the Houston Press said that Chinatown was "straddling Beltway 8 on the southwest side like an entire city unto itself."
The new Chinatown is located within a residential area of single-family houses and apartments, and its spread-out nature differs from the East Downtown Chinatown, which was in a relatively compact area. The businesses within the new Chinatown include a mall, supermarkets, shopping centers, restaurants, and bakeries. The street signs have Chinese characters.
The Bellaire Chinatown has many "retail condos," shopping centers in which spaces are owned instead of leased. Many East Asian people prefer to own shopping places instead of renting them. In the United States "retail condos" are rare outside of areas populated by East Asian Americans. The community has restaurants serving many kinds of cuisines, including Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese, Filipinos, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Malaysian, and Thai. In addition it has restaurants operated by ethnic Vietnamese that serve Louisiana-style crawfish. The community also has many fusion cuisine restaurants. Shilcutt said that "the restaurant density in this area is roughly equivalent to the population density of Vatican City."
Lisa Gray of the Houston Chronicle stated that this Chinatown resembles newer Chinatowns that opened in automobile-oriented metropolitan areas in the United States such as suburbs in Greater Los Angeles and the Silicon Valley, as opposed to older, uniformly Chinese, pedestrian-oriented Chinatowns in New York City and San Francisco. Gray said that in older Chinatowns immigrant businesses cluster together by ethnic group, while in newer automobile oriented Chinatowns retail operations from different ethnic groups move in next door to each other.
As of 2012, according to the Greater Sharpstown Management District the portion of Chinatown within the boundaries of the Greater Sharpstown district has 29,993 people. The clientele of this Chinatown tends to be middle class.
Two Houston City Council districts, F and J, serve the new Chinatown. District J was created to allow Hispanics to more easily elect representatives who cater to them.
The new Chinatown is served by two Houston Police Department patrol divisions, the Midwest Patrol Division and the Westside Patrol Division, of the Houston Police Department. The Midwest division operates the Ranchester Storefront (Simplified Chinese: 中国城警察局, Hanyu Pinyin: Zhōngguóchéng Jǐngchájú "Chinatown Police Station") in the Diho Square (Simplified Chinese: 顶好广场, Hanyu Pinyin: Dínghǎo Guángchǎng) complex.
Fire stations located within Chinatown's boundaries include Station 10 Bellaire (Simplified Chinese: 第十号消防队, Hanyu Pinyin: Dìshíhào Xiāofángduì "Fire Brigade #10") and Station 76 Alief Community, both a part of Fire District 83. Station 10, previously located in what is now East Downtown, relocated to its current location in 1985. Station 76 was built in 1985.
Almost one dozen banks, including overseas Chinese banks and mainstream banks, are located along a less than 1 mile (1.6 km) stretch of Bellaire Boulevard, in proximity to Beltway 8. The clientele of these banks include area residents and Asian American entrepreneurs. Robert Lee, an executive vice president of MetroBank, said that "They call it the Wall Street of Chinatown."
In a three decade period before 2007, Wells Fargo had one of the few branches in the area. Businesspeople began to open Asian American ethnic grocery stores and seafood markets. In the 1980s Wells Fargo added signs in Chinese and hired tellers who spoke Cantonese, Korean, and nine other languages. During the same decade local businesspeople opened MetroBank and Texas First National Bank during a banking crisis that negatively affected the state's mainstream banks. George Lee, the president of MetroCorp Bancshares, said "All the banks were in trouble, and the ones that were not in trouble didn't understand the needs of the Asian community." American First National Bank and Southwestern National Bank opened in the 1990s. As of 2007 many Asian businesses operate in the area, and so Asian American banks have opened to cater to them. As of that year Washington Mutual (now JPMorgan Chase) was the last company to open a bank branch in that area of Chinatown. Texas First National is now known as Golden Bank.
MetroCorp Bancshares and subsidiary MetroBank have their headquarters in Chinatown and in Greater Sharpstown. Southwestern National Bank also has its headquarters in Chinatown and Greater Sharpstown. American First National Bank maintains a 12 story, $30 million headquarters building in Chinatown.
Halliburton operates the Houston Office (a.k.a. Oak Park Campus) on 67 acres of land located in Chinatown and in the Westchase district. The complex includes the Latin America division of Easywell, a division of Halliburton. In 2009 the Westchase campus had 1,700 employees; Halliburton plans to increase its workforce at Oak Park to 3,000 workers. At the Bellaire site Halliburton plans to build a 16 story tower, a two story "life center," an additional parking garage, expanded child care facilities, auditoriums, and bridges to connect the many buildings. In 2009 Halliburton had about 1,000 employees worked in leased office space in Westchase. During that year Halliburton stated that it planned to vacate the leased space. The plans for the Oak Park office had been delayed by one year, and Halliburton expects completion in 2013.
The new Chinatown is served by two separate school districts: Most of the New Chinatown according to the Lori Rodriguez definition is served by the Alief Independent School District, while an eastern portion is served by the Houston Independent School District. The HISD portion of the community is within Trustee District VI, represented by Greg Meyers as of 2008.
Zoned elementary schools (K-4) located within the Lori Rodriguez definition of Chinatown include A. J. Bush, Chambers, Chancellor, Collins, Hearne, Liestman, Mahanay, Martin, and Youens. In addition Sneed Elementary School, outside of Chinatown, serves a portion of Chinatown. Bilingual students zoned to Chancellor attend Youens, and bilingual students zoned to Mahanay attend Hearne.
Owens Middle School is a zoned intermediate school in Chinatown. Budewig, Miller, and Youngblood, outside of Chinatown, serve portions of Chinatown. Middle schools in Chinatown include Alief Middle, Killough, and O'Donnell. A portion is served by Albright Middle, outside of Chinatown.
Regardless of location within the district, all Alief ISD residents may be randomly assigned to either Alief Elsik High School, Alief Hastings High School, and Alief Taylor High School; all of them are in Chinatown. In addition the magnet school Alief Kerr High School is in Chinatown.
Neff and White Elementary Schools are located in the Houston ISD portion of Chinatown. Other portions are served by Emerson and Piney Point elementary schools.
Most of the HISD portion is zoned to Sugar Grove Middle School and Sharpstown High School.
A portion of Chinatown is zoned to Revere Middle School and Lee High School.
Prior to 2011, Sharpstown Middle School served most of the HISD portion of Chinatown. The portion of the HISD portion of New Chinatown south of Bellaire Boulevard was zoned to Sharpstown High School, while the portion north of Bellaire Boulevard was zoned to Lee High School (With Lamar High School and Westside High School as options). For a period after 2011 the Sharpstown zone was assigned to Sharpstown International School for grades 6 through 12.
Strake Jesuit College Preparatory and Saint Agnes Academy are in Chinatown.
Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas (METRO) provides local bus services to the area.
Chinese holidays are celebrated in this Chinatown.
The Chinese Community Center (CCC, Chinese: 休士顿中华文化服务中心, Hanyu Pinyin Xiūshìdùn Zhōnghuá Wénhuà Fúwù Zhōngxīn, "Houston Chinese Culture Service Center"), an IRS 501(c)(3) organization and a United Way affiliate, is located at 9800 Town Park Drive. The facility opened in 1979 as the Chinese Language School. The CCC has several levels of English classes offered daily. As of 2006, at CCC about 80% of the students have university degrees, and the other 20% are the companions of the students with university degrees.