Before and After: Chinatown’s Chatham Square

Same place, different time.

By E. Tammy Kim
August 27, 2012 | , , , , , , ,

Looking south from Chinatown’s Chatham Square, the steeple of St. Paul’s Chapel, built in 1766, is the only thing binding these images: a print from 1866 and a photograph I took in 2012. Bordering what used to be Collect Pond and the Five Points area, Chatham Square was in the late nineteenth century a raucous nexus of flophouses, brothels, and saloons. Today, karaoke and booze aren’t too far from the tiny park, renamed “Kimlau Square” after Benjamin Ralph Kimlau, a Chinese American World War II bomber pilot, in 1961.

Chatham Square, 2012. (E. Tammy Kim)


E. Tammy Kim covers Chinatown and the Lower East Side as Open City's Creative Nonfiction Fellow. In her free time, she scribbles tiny cartoons on beer coasters and eats lots of kale. Find more at

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  1. When I was a college student (1970’s), I remember Chatham Square. There was a theatre, a pool hall above it and a liquor store and soon to come would be an OTB (Off Track Betting). The corner of Doyer and Bowery was the solicitation area for street walkers. Bordering East Broadway and Catherine was the Manhattan Savings Bank. Close by on Division was Chinese Planning Council and a stone’s throw on Catherine was the original site of Chinatown Health Clinic and Basement workshop.
    That of course was before the arch and Statue of Confucius (which was by the nearby Confucius Plaza apartments).

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