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London's iconic Chinatown pavilion set for rebirth

By BO LEUNG | China Daily UK | Updated: 2016-11-16 18:05

Over the decades, it was a focal point in London's Chinatown where lovers and friends met before heading of to the many Chinese restaurants and shops in the area.

It was part of the fabric that gave the area its quintessential Chinese feel, along with the shops selling Chinese food that spilled onto the pavements and Cantonese chefs preparing Beijing duck and other dishes behind the windows of steamy restaurants and cafes.

Chinese social media users were up in arms last week when pictures emerged showing the pavilion being demolished. Netizens expressed anger and disappointment over the loss of the iconic landmark.

The pavilion itself wasn't overly grand. Four red pillars topped by a traditional tiled, curved roof provided only limited shelter, but it was loved.

But all is not lost. This week came news that a replacement is on its way.

The removal of the pavilion that was installed in the 1980s is part of an initiative by the London Chinatown Chinese Association to regenerate the area and follows the installation of a Chinese gate at the entrance to the neighborhood on Wardour Street. Working with Westminster City Council, the association plans a new traffic-free square in Newport Place, at the end of Gerrard and Lisle Streets. The cluster of souvenir shops next to the pavilion have also closed ahead of the work.

A yet-to-be-named Beijing architect has been commissioned to design what the Chinese association calls a "new authentic Chinese pavilion" that will be built by Chinese craftsmen and opened late next year.

London and West End developer Shaftesbury plc, which has invested heavily in the neighborhood, said it is excited by the plans.

Back in 2008, a vision was set out for Chinatown that was commissioned by the Prince's Foundation charity. It calls for improved access from neighboring Soho and Leicester Square, and the reopening of a local London Underground station.

The area will also be made "more authentically Chinese" with preliminary plans suggesting a screen garden, new gates and wooden Chinese dragons at each of the nine entrances.

Chinese mythology and feng shui will play a major role in the designs, according to Westminster City Council.

London's first Chinatown was in the East End's Lime-house district, near London's docks, in the 1880s. It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that the modern Chinatown, off the West End's Shaftesbury Avenue, developed.

At the time, immigrants from Hong Kong started arriving and were drawn into the restaurant trade. British soldiers who served in East Asia during World War II helped create a new customer base for Chinese cuisine. As its popularity grew, the new Chinatown was born.

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