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Looking up at a street lamp between two buildings, and there are little American flags and a sign reading “Welcome to Boston’s Historical Chinatown” hanging off it.

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Chinatown’s 6 must-visit sites

These spots, perfect for history and culture buffs, range from iconic to hiding in plain sight—the Chinatown gate, murals, the Chinese Merchants Association Building, and more

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Chinatown has played a crucial role in Boston’s history. And, though it’s shrunk in size, the remaining part continues to play a role in the city’s present too. Here are the six must-visit sites in Boston’s last truly ethnic neighborhood that are easily accessible via mass transit or on foot in a relatively short amount of time.


Chinatown Gate

A large, ornamental gate on a busy street. Connie/Flickr

The Chinatown Gate, known as a paifang, greets you at the intersection of Beach Street and Surface Road. Look for the two guardian lions; one sits on each side of the gate.

Offered by the Taiwanese government to Boston in 1982, the gate is engraved with two writings in Chinese: “Tian Xia Wei Gong,” a saying that translates as “everything under the sky is for the people,” and “Li Yi Lian Chi,” the four societal bonds of propriety, justice, integrity, and honor.

Chinese Merchants Association Building

A five-story urban building crowned by a pagoda. Shutterstock

The Chinatown Gate is hard to miss, but there’s another welcome sign on the corner of Hudson and Kneeland streets that most people don’t see. At the top of the historic On Leong Chinese Merchants Association building, built in 1951, is a red “Welcome to Chinatown” sign. To find it, look for the distinctive traditional roof pagoda.

The building’s history is interesting—and indicative of how Boston used to treat some of its neighborhoods. Dedicated in 1951, it was intended to be a landmark and a community center. Its size was slashed and a significant portion removed, however, to make way for the construction of the Central Artery in and the Massachusetts Turnpike Extension.

Chinatown Park

A small park with a pagoda in the background. Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Chinatown Park is built over the site of an abandoned off-ramp from the Central Artery’s Dewey Square tunnel and is approximately three quarters of an acre. It’s the largest open space in Chinatown and its winding path forms the start of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

Shakespeare bust

A building with a small bust of a man—William Shakespeare—in a small indentation built into the building, and there are pedestrians walking by. Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

This is a largely unknown curiosity. Near 15 Beach Street, a bust of history’s greatest playwright quietly sits on the brick wall of an unassuming apartment building.

Unlike most of Boston’s monuments, this unmarked relic has languished in relative obscurity for more than one hundred years. The five-story Renaissance Revival building dates from 1885, and was remodeled in 1897 as the Shakespearian Inn. Stop by and show it some love on your social media feed.

Murals

Walk Chinatown’s streets and you’ll find a plethora of outdoor art. And while the one controversial piece linked to Banksy is now gone, there are plenty more to hold your attention.

To start, check out “Tied Together by a Thousand Threads” (pictured above) in Phillips Square at 15-25 Harrison Avenue, next to Beard Papa and Chatime. And in a nearby parking lot is the supersized “Travellers In An Autumn Landscape,” which is a copy of a painting in the Museum of Fine Arts.

The Old Globe Theatre

A wide, somewhat deserted city street with low-slung buildings on either side. Shutterstock

The Empire Garden Restaurant at 690 Washington Street is an intriguing stop for those who hunger for history. Back in 1903, it was the Globe Theatre, where folks in search of vaudeville performances would get their kicks.

Over the decades, it morphed into Loew’s Center Theatre, a double-feature movie house; and the Pagoda, a cinema for Hong Kong action movies. It was the last Chinese-language cinema in the city before it closed in 1995.

Today, a restaurant and grocery store share space in this opulent structure, built by Arthur H. Vinal, Boston’s city architect from 1884 to 1887.

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