Sen. Chang, others urge Detroit to halt demolition of historic Chinatown site

By: - July 27, 2023 10:38 am

Detroit’s 3143 Cass Ave. in the city’s historic Chinatown district. | Ken Coleman

State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Detroit City Council Member Gabrielle Santiago-Romero and the group Rising Voices have called on Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration to stop the demolition of the building at 3143 Cass Avenue in the city’s historic Chinatown district. 

“For many Asian Americans in and around the city of Detroit, this building represents where many of their relatives first placed their roots,” Chang wrote to city officials. “Located in the center of what is historically known as Chinatown, this property began as a residence in 1883 and was eventually purchased by the Chinese Merchants Association in 1963.”

State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), April 26, 2023 | Laina G. Stebbins

Chang has called for an emergency review of the structure, as well as an “interim historic designation.” 

“Many years ago, 3143 Cass Ave. served as a welcoming space for Chinese immigrants who decided to make Detroit home,” Chang continued. “Community gatherings, religious celebrations, and educational activities were hosted at this building as a way to unite residents. At one point, the building hosted a theater space for the showing of Chinese operas. 

The building was the subject of a City Council hearing in 2018, when the local legislative body put the structure on the “Ordered Demolished” list. Santiago-Romero joined the body in January 2022. 

“We trust the professional judgment of BSEED [Buildings, Safety Engineering, and Environmental Department] inspectors,” John Roach, Duggan’s spokesman, told the Advance on Thursday. 

The city department believes that the building is structurally unsound. 

In her letter, Chang, Michigan’s first woman of Asian descent to serve in the Legislature, offered additional context for her position. 

“Creating a new life away from your homeland is extremely difficult, but this building provided a gathering spot for Chinese immigrants to build a new sense of community. As one of the last standing buildings representing what used to be Detroit’s Chinatown, this building is a lot more than just a run down building, but a home away from home for many. Although no longer functioning, it holds memories for many Asian Americans, both inside and outside the city.”

The destruction of this building will have a significant negative impact on this community and destroy what little remnants we have left of Detroit’s old Chinatown,” Chang wrote. 

Rising Voices is a Michigan nonprofit that works to organize and develop the leadership of Asian American women, youth and communities. Co-Executive Director Jasmine Rivera called on Detroit city officials and others “to preserve and explore options to restore the building back to its original function of providing a nurturing gathering place for the local community.”

“In the wake of the recent rise of anti-Asian violence, the activism that originated from Detroit’s Chinatown remains a relevant and important legacy for the nation to recognize and uplift as an example of community power and action,” Rivera said. “The destruction of this building would only serve to erase this essential aspect of American civil rights history and disrespect the legacy of our communities.”

Detroit’s 3143 Cass Ave. in the city’s historic Chinatown district. | Ken Coleman


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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.