New York Daily Photo Analytics

Thursday, August 13, 2009


If you want a full cultural immersion experience, head to Columbus Park on a Sunday in Chinatown. This tiny park is Chinatown's playground, home to a wide gamut of traditional Chinese recreational activities. Here, you will find people doing Tai Chi or practicing martial arts in the pavilion, playing folk music, displaying caged birds, singing Peking Opera, women playing mahjong, and hundreds of men engaged in numerous games of Xiangqi (Chinese or elephant chess). You may find cobblers, watch repairers, and fortune tellers. There is also a children's playground and basketball courts. See more photos here.

Columbus Park is one of the city's first major urban parks (the park has alternatively been named Mulberry Bend Park, Five Points Park, and Paradise Park). The 3.23 acre park was planned in the 1880’s by Calvert Vaux, co-designer of Central Park, and opened in 1897. It was named Columbus Park in 1911. Read more about Columbus Park at the New York City Parks Department website here. From their website:

It is situated in the heart of one of the oldest residential areas in Manhattan. The southern end is adjacent to the infamous "Five Points." Until 1808, the site for the park was a swampy area near the Collect Pond (now Foley Square) and hosted a set of tanneries. In 1808 the pond was filled and became Pearl Street. When the filling began to sink, a foul odor emerged which depressed the living conditions of that neighborhood. As a consequence, the area became host to one of the world's most notorious tenements, known for its wretched living conditions and rampant crime, earning such names as "murderer's alley" and "den of thieves."

This notorious slum, Five Points, was dominated by rival gangs such as the Roach Guards, Dead Rabbits, and Bowery Boys, a central subject of the book The Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury, published in 1928. This, in turn, inspired the 2002 Martin Scorsese film, Gangs of New York.

To survive in New York City, unless you have enormous wealth to buffer the harsh environment, you must learn to be resourceful. Ethnic immigrant groups find ways to import their cultures. Regardless of how inhospitable the city might be or incongruous the activity, New Yorkers improvise, adopt, and adapt. The Chinese have done that remarkably well...

Location: Columbus Park is located one block south of Canal Street and one block west of Mott Street in Chinatown. It is bounded by Baxter, Mulberry, Bayard, and Worth Streets.

Related Postings: No MSG, Tết, Big Buddha, Hallmarks and Earmarks, Durian, At Arm's Length, Year of the Rat, Pearl River Mart, Buried Treasure, Tea Time


Steffe said...

Looks like a place where anything might happen.

Brian Dubé said...

It is a place where everything happens.

An Honest Man said...

How is Xiangqi pronounced?

I do like the human aspects of the photograph.

Anonymous said...

I am so happy to know where the
infamous Five Points was. I have
read of it in both fiction and non-fiction and have never been able to pinpoint it.
Thanks for this illumination.

ryan said...

Thanks Brian for another great story and photos! I think the old ladies there are running discreet gambling games. Chinese people, specifically those who are first generation, are extremely disciplined and frugal. However where they let loose is gambling. They love games of chance. When I was a kid my parents would occasionally talk about a family having financial difficulties - most of the time it was the result of gambling debts.

xiangqi is pronounced approximately as ssee-oun-chi. Literally, it means elephant banner.

Annie said...

Have spent a little time in the Washington Heights/Inwood areas where the Hispanic shopkeepers like to sit on the street outside and play their games on the their boards or knees...