For decades, ‘meet me at the pagoda’ was a classic utterance for anyone planning a Chinatown get-together, whether it involved feasting on crispy duck pancakes or delighting in wontons and equally delicious insults from the legendarily rude waiters at Wong Kei. Now, Wong Kei’s staff have been to charm school, and that pagoda is a distant memory. The ornate structure was taken down in 2016 after over 30 years in service, as part of a project to regenerate Chinatown.
A replacement was promised imminently, but it’s only now, eight years later, that Chinatown’s finally getting one. Westminster City Council has allocated a quarter of a million pounds to creating a new, multi-tiered pagoda. The building will be designed and created in authentic style in China, then shipped over and installed in Chinatown as a meeting point for new generations of Londoners.
It won’t come a minute too soon for Chinatown’s businesses, acting as a sign of renewed hope and investment in a district that’s struggled through the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis.
Originally, London’s Chinatown was in Limehouse in the East End, where eighteenth century sailors settled and created a community complete with shops and restaurants. But in the 1950s the centre of gravity shifted to London’s centre, which combined cheap rents with pleasure-seeking crowds in search of fun and good food.
By the 1980s, Chinatown was finally recognised by local government and turned into a recognisable version of today’s tourist hotspot, with ornate gates and the famous pagoda erected, and Gerrard Street and Newport Place pedestrianised to make places for visitors to gather. This infrastructure was falling into disrepair by the 2010s, so it’s great to see it renewed for 2024.
It’s the splashiest piece of public realm investment planned for this year, but it’s not the only one. The current round of Westminster City Council grants will also fund new hanging baskets in Maida Vale, spruce up Shepherd Market, and create new kids’ Xmas lights for Soho.
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