We recently posted about the beginning of Houston’s Asian population, which began in the late 1930s, in the area we now call East Downtown, or EaDo.
To shed some light on this history, we’re recounting research culled from the fall 2014 issue of Sugar and Rice Magazine and this interview with Executive Director Anton Sinkewich on Houston Public Media’s Houston Matters podcast.
Today we continue the series, starting in the late 1960s and ending with the EaDo we know and love today.
- In the late 1960s, one major development plan changed the trajectory of Downtown Houston and EaDo’s Asiatown. Texas Eastern Corporation, a large oil company, had plans to build a mega-development called Houston Center, and quietly began buying land between Fannin Street and US 59. Existing buildings were razed to make room for the ambitious project, but little was completed before the oil bust in 1982.
- This left the area west of 59 empty of nearly everything except parking lots, streets and vacant land, creating a gap between the core of then-”Chinatown” and the downtown central business district. When the George R. Brown Convention Center opened in September 1987, streets connecting downtown to Chinatown were severed. This, and rising land prices in the 1980s, kept the area from expanding further, in addition to another important development: The Fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War.
- The Federal Refugee Resettlement Program was created in 1975 to address the huge numbers of refugees from Vietnam, and the federal government designated Houston as a refugee resettlement site. Over a seven-year period, 1.2 million refugees resettled in the city. Inexpensive properties along Bellaire Boulevard and the Sharpstown area made it an attractive place for housing and business opportunities, which precipitated the rise in the Asian population and the businesses that cater to the Asian community.
- As growth along Bellaire Boulevard increased through the 90s, it became clear that developments geared towards an Asian clientele were not likely to return to East Downtown.
- Still, some long standing Asian-American businesses continue to operate successfully, including wholesale and distribution businesses that provide products like noodles, specialty produce and baked goods to the entire southwestern United States. Though land prices are rising, these businesses stay due to the location, which allows for easy access to the city’s freeways. And, the cluster of wholesale businesses in EaDo means trucks can make multiple stops in a short distance, an advantage these businesses might not have if they were to leave the area individually.
Though the majority of residents have moved, two temples built in the East Downtown area in the 1990’s are still popular with the city’s Vietnamese and Indochinese residents. Stay tuned for more in-depth information about The Sun Young Taoist Temple, at Delano and Clay street, and The Texas Guandi Temple on Milby Street.