Chinatown museum reborn 2 yrs. after devastating fire
As a teen, Raymond Lee once lived on the third floor of a Chinatown building where wholesaler Quong Yick Co. sold vegetables and other goods to restaurants as far away as Elgin.
Now the building at 238 W. 23rd houses the five-year-old Chinese-American Museum of Chicago, which on Saturday celebrated its reopening, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of a mysterious fire that two years ago destroyed the facility.
It took a concerted effort and a few angels to bring it back — including Lee, owner of Golden Country Oriental Food LLC, who kicked in $250,000 of his own money to renovate the structure.
The museum had been insured, but repairs to the 114year-old, four-story building after the Sept. 19, 2008, blaze exceeded coverage.
Other donors to come forward in an effort to reopen the Chinatown museum included the National Museum of Mexican Art, the Field Museum, and several other Chicago cultural institutions.
And some angels of a different sort showed up to celebrate its rebirth: nine Chicago firefighters. Pulling up to the museum in Engine No. 8, they stood before a crowd of well-wishers who applauded their firefighting efforts that day, praising them for throwing tarps over exhibits and saving many of the artifacts from water and fire damage.
Visitors then snaked through the museum, admiring such items as a Chinese battle ax and a 50-foot-long multicolored dragon. Also on display on the first floor are fire-damaged artifacts such as a military uniform and charred doll heads, as well as a TV news video of the blaze, in the exhibit “Fire at the Museum.”
The second floor hosts the exhibit “Great Wall to the Great Lakes: Chinese Immigration to the Midwest.”
It will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.