A New Building in Chinatown Connects Past and Future

50 Bowery (Image via Sing Tao Daily)

50 Bowery (Image via Sing Tao Daily)

A new building will be unveiled in the summer at 50 Bowery in Chinatown. To be known as the Joie de Vivre Hotel, it will be the biggest hotel in the neighborhood. For the developer, the renowned Chu family, the project is the fulfillment of a dream that has spanned generations. For Chinatown, it may also be a bridge that connects the past and the future. Sing Tao Daily published a package of several stories about the real estate project on Dec. 30 by reporter Lotus Chau. Here is a combined and condensed version.

In August, at 50 Bowery in Chinatown, a luxury hotel that cost $70 million to build will be unveiled. Located at the intersection of the Manhattan Bridge, the Bowery and Canal Street, the 22-floor building will undoubtedly become a new landmark of Chinatown. For the Chu family who developed the property, it is a dream of several generations coming true and a legacy they, as an immigrant family, would like to leave to Chinatown and New York.

The idea for the hotel originated with Joseph Chu, the pioneer of the Chu family who settled in New York in 1949. It was then sketched out by his son Alex Chu, now 68, and executed by his grandson, 33-year-old Jonathan Chu. To the Chus, this is not just another hotel in Chinatown. It is a torch that has been passed between family members for more than 40 years. And, more importantly, with the more than 200 jobs the hotel will create in Chinatown, the time capsule laid at its foundation that contains cultural elements of the present Chinatown, and the exhibition space it offers to the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), the project is a way for the Chus to give back to the community. “As a developer, I hope the hotel can help revitalize the middle class in this neighborhood,” said Alex.

According to historic records, 50-52 Bowery Street was where the Bull’s Head Tavern was located in the mid-1700s. Over time, the Bowery was occupied by early immigrants including the Irish, the Italians, the Germans and Jewish people. This was a poor neighborhood. There was a cattle market located at the intersection of Bowery and Canal, which was surrounded by businesses like butcher houses, leather factories and bars. Bull’s Head Tavern, which was above the storefront that is better known today as the Golden Bridge Restaurant, was a popular bar where the merchants, the butchers and cattle brokers liked to gather after work. On Nov. 25, 1783, after English colonials withdrew from New York, troops led by George Washington celebrated their victory here, making the bar an entry in the history books.

The Atlantic Garden at 50 Bowery. (Image via NYPL Digital Collections, 1871)

The Atlantic Garden at 50 Bowery. (Image via NYPL Digital Collections, 1871)

In 1858, at this location, German businessman William Kramer opened the Atlantic Garden, a popular bar which was turned into a Jewish theatre in 1910 amid the influx of Jewish settlers. Then the land was purchased by the Chus who became the landlords of 50, 52, and 54 Bowery.

In 1975, the Silver Palace restaurant was erected at 52 Bowery. The restaurant had enjoyed vibrant business until it was sued by employees over labor disputes. The case lasted for many years. The restaurant was renamed New Silver Palace and then, Golden Bridge. But the restaurant was still shut down as the labor disputes seemed to be endless.

In 2011 when the lease expired, the Chus took back the land. They demolished the building in 2013 and started to build the new hotel which, with 15,000 square feet and 228 rooms, will be the biggest hotel in Chinatown.

Alex, whose own children have grown up, said the project is like another child of his. He said his father Joseph came to New York in the 1940s and was one of the most prominent real estate developers in Chinatown in the ’60s and the ’70s. At that time, there was no hotel in this neighborhood. So Joseph had been weighing the idea of building a hotel here. And what he had in mind was not just a hotel, but a big one.

Joseph passed away in 2004. In the years after, hotels have been shooting up in Chinatown like bamboo shoots after a rain, including hotel chains and hostels. Then why does Chinatown need one more hotel? Alex said the adequacy of hotels in Chinatown doesn’t conflict with the dream of the Chu family. Their hotel, planned by internationally renowned designers but independent from any chains, is meant to be a cultural brand in Chinatown. Not only will the hotel be located in the center of Chinatown, but it will also become a landmark, and include a 4,000-square-foot exhibition space on the second floor for MOCA.

York Chan, former president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association who is a brother in law of Alex Chu, Eric Ng, current president of the CCBA, Alex Chu, and Jonathan Chu (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

York Chan, former president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association who is a brother in law of Alex Chu, Eric Ng, current president of the CCBA, Alex Chu, and Jonathan Chu (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

For more than three decades, Alex has been donating and supporting MOCA. The passion was passed on to the younger generation too. Three years ago, his son Jonathan became a board member of MOCA. On the second floor of 50 Bowery, there will be a space for MOCA to display some of its collections on Chinatown and Chinese immigrants. So the guests of the hotel can be connected with the culture and the history of this community.

In addition, in January 2015, the Chus answered the call from MOCA for a time capsule. Containing objects such as copies of Sing Tao Daily, The New York Times and Time magazine, menus of Chinese restaurants, and some Golden Venture and 9/11-related collections from MOCA, the capsule was placed at the foundation of the building for people in the future to understand today’s Chinatown and the people living here.

The everyday supervision and coordination of the project is taken care of by three young people  including Jonathan, a Harvard graduate in economics, his sister Lauren Chu and David Ho, Lauren’s classmate in the hotel management program at Cornell University. All of them are younger than 35. “If the younger generation can bring back what they learn to Chinatown and instill new energy to this neighborhood, Chinatown will have a bright future,” said Alex.

He said there is a reason that the Chus didn’t go to the new hot markets in Flushing or Brooklyn but chose to build the hotel in Chinatown. “We got our fortune in Chinatown. We want to give back to the neighborhood. And 50 Bowery is a platform for us to do so,” said Alex.

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