The Dragons of Chinatown: The Chinatown Gateway Monument

Chinatown Dragon Gate. Los Angeles Explorers Guild.

The Dragons of Chinatown

The Chinatown Gateway Monument

Twin golden dragons guard the entrance to Los Angeles’s second Chinatown.

The Dragon Gate of Chinatown

At the edge of Chinatown’s southern border, visitors are greeted by two golden dragons cavorting majestically over Broadway. These twin dragons are officially known as the Chinatown Gateway Monument, but most people refer to them as the Chinatown Dragons.

The Chinatown Dragon Gate with mist. Photo from the author’s collection.

These dragons have been a fixture at the entrance to Chinatown since June 2001 when architect Rupert Mok’s concept was selected from 17 ideas submitted to a city-sponsored contest calling for a Chinatown gateway design.

Mok has said his inspiration for the sculpture came to him from a vision he had while crossing the street one day. As he ran across Broadway, he saw the image of a skeleton on the other side of the road. Above this figure, two dragons soared around a huge pearl.

The fiberglass dragons of the Chinatown Gateway Monument weigh around 3000 pounds each and are between 35 and 40 feet long — but if they were straightened out they’d each measure more than 70 feet. Each dragon, painted gold in the Qing dynasty fashion, has five fingers on each of its hands, typically a symbol of the Chinese Emperor.

The image of two dragons fighting over a pearl is a recurring scene in Chinese art, and according to Mok, the dragon above the pearl is meant to be more aggressive while its mate is intended to appear defensive or protective.

The dragons are mounted on a 80-foot-wide steel framework 43 feet above Broadway. The framework is held aloft by eight red-painted steel pillars decorated with the words “Wisdom” and “Harmony” in English and Chinese.

The structure also features a layer of aluminum mesh meant to give the impression of the dragons soaring through clouds. to further enhance this illusion, each dragon is equipped with a nozzle underneath it that occasionally blasts out a fine spray of mist. It’s not clear how often the mist appears — it may be on a timer or it may be somewhat random.

An excerpt from a plaque mounted on the pillars explains the intent of the monument:

“… The Chinatown Gateway Monument is a strong visual symbol of mutual cooperation, harmony and prosperity for the Community and the City. The Gateway honors the rich ancestry, culture and history of the Chinatown Community. The Chinatown Gateway also signifies a warm welcome to all visitors to Chinatown and the City of Los Angeles.”

The Dragons of Chinatown: The Chinatown Gateway Monument

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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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