A view of lower Rowland Heights from the hills
Little Taipei is a nickname for Rowland Heights, a city in the San Gabriel Valley. Rowland Heights is a community neighbored by City of Industry to the north, Diamond Bar to the northeast, Chino Hills to the east, unincorporated Orange County to the south, La Habra Heights to the southwest, and Hacienda Heights to the west.
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s map of Rowland Heights — made without aesthetic consideration for my eyes only
THE RANCHO PERIOD
Rowland Heights’ location in the southeastern corner of the SGV was earlier part of the Mexican Rancho La Puente. In 1842, shortly before the Mexican-American War, the land was sold to John Rowland andWilliam Workman. In 1868, they divided it and established the Workman Temple Homestead near what’s now the corner of Gale and Nogales. Much of what became Rowland Heights was covered with hog lots and later orange groves until nearly a century later, when postwar prosperity, the extension of the 60 Freeway and a greater trend toward suburbanization led Angelenos eastward into the area.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF TAIWAN IMMIGRATION TO THE US
In 1949, after the defeat of the Nationalist Kuomintang army by the Communist Party of China, approximately two million mainland Chinese refugees (waishengren or 49ers) moved to Taiwan, joining the population of indigenous Austronesians (a group which also includes the Malagasy of Madagascar,Filipinos, Indonesians and Polynesians), who’d lived there from some four to eight thousand years as well as Mainland Chinese descendants who’d lived there for centuries. Following Mao Zedong‘s death in 1979, a power struggle erupted between the Gang of Four, Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping. The political uncertainty that ensued over the next four years provided the impetus for some relatively wealthy residents in Taiwan and Hong Kong to pack their bags and move to the San Gabriel Valley, especially in Monterey Park, which was advertised in China as “The Asian Beverly Hills.”
Soon, Monterey Park acquired to new nicknames, “Mandarin Park” and “Little Taipei.” Those appellations were soon dropped after many ethnically Chinese (Hoa) left Vietnam after experiencing anti-Chinese persecution there. After a moratorium against development of new shopping centers in Monterey Park went into effect, Chinese-Americans began to move to neighboring Alhambra. Meanwhile, given the growing wealth of mainland Chinese and Monterey Park’s reputation abroad, many mainlanders began to move to the San Gabriel Valley as well. In 1990, Monterey Park became the first Asian majority city in the US, albeit one where Vietnamese and Cantonese were by then heard as often as Mandarin.
BEYOND MANDARIN PARK
A few years earlier, as Monterey Park and Alhambra had begun to grow increasingly crowded, wealthier, established Taiwanese-Americans began to eye other nearby cities like San Gabriel, Rosemead, Arcadia, Temple City, Artesia, Irvine, Cerritos, Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights. Although Monterey Park was marketed as “The Asian Beverly Hills,” if anything that nickname seems more appropriate for Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights (or Arcasia or Chan Marino… fine!). If anyone wants to film a reality show in the vein of MTV‘s The Hills and BET‘s Baldwin Hills, I highly recommend that someone pitch The Heightsto the good folks at LA-18. The city is characterized by green, rolling hills with sprawling (if not especially attractive) hillside McMansions in the south, and the Asian-American shopping district along Colima in the north.
RELOCATING LITTLE TAIPEI
Up until the mid-1980s, Rowland Heights had been predominantly Anglo and Latino. Now they make up the minorities, with Latinos making up 27% and whites making up 17%. Although Taiwanese make up the largest ethnic group in the neighborhood, monied Korean-Americans, mainland Chinese, Hong Kongers and Hoa have followed the Taiwnese-American wave, creating something of a wealthy, pan-East Asian fusion suburb where Koreans and Mainland Chinese often serve Japanese or Taiwanese food and Hoa run foot massage parlors, hair and nail salons. There are also quite a few spas, come to think of it.
NEW GOLDEN TOFU SEAFOOD PHO NOODLE HOUSE GARDEN CHINA KING PALACE
Rowland Heights’ main draw is its many restaurants. Every April, Pathfinder Park hosts the Taste of the Heights festival. Thankfully, chains are mostly eschewed. Not long ago a Taco Bell became a pho restaurant. On the day Tim and I were exploring, we popped into New Garden, a Mandarin Restaurant. I was first intrigued by the blue roof tiles, which I associate with Koreans. Inside the TVs were tuned to KBS. They started us off with onions, jjajang sauce and kim chi. The customers and employees engaged one another in Korean. It was slightly unexpected but, more importantly, it was delicious!
The most represented cuisine in Rowland Heights is Taiwanese, but as this not even comprehensive list hopefully shows, there are many Korean, Mandarin, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and Mexican joints too… not to mention an above average number of yogurt places, tea bars, bakeries and even two Cajun restaurants. The first time I ate in Rowland Heights was a chilly winter night at a Macaroni Grill. Behold the variety!
#1 Pho, #1 Sun, 5 Minute Bowl/VNS Chicken, A Taco Pub 2, Abarca’s Taco Pub, Ajisen, Aoyama, Apo Apo, BCD Tofu House, Baimon, Banana Bay, Banana Cafe, Banana Split Garden, Beef Noodle King, Beer Station, Berri Yogurt, Bin Bin Konjac, Boston Kitchen, Cake House Richmond, Cannan, Capital Seafood, Casa Alvarez, Casa Blanca, Cham Sut Gol, Chef’s China Kitchen, China Gate, Chu Ga, Class 302, Coconut Bay, Coconut Station, Country Bistro, Country Chicken, Diamond Bakery, Ding’s Garden, Dolphin Bay, Eastern Express, FFY Noodle House, Feedable BBQ Buffet, Flavor of Beijing, Food to Go, Four Seasons Steak House, Ga Ju Soon, Gaju Soft Tofu Restaurant, Genie’s Donuts, Genki Living, Go Hyang, Golden China Restaurant, Golden Noodle & Grill, Good Morning Bakery, Good Time Cafe, Graziano’s, Green Tea Terrace, Gungjung Sulruntang, Hainan Tasty Chicken, Hanashima Noodle House, Hang Out Tea House, Happy Dolphin Bay, Happy Harbor, Happy Sheep, Happy Veggie Garden, Hong Kong Fishball House, Hong Kong Palace, Howondang, Hsin Hsin Shao Mei, Hsin Hsin Shau Mei, Hunan, Ichi Ichi Fusion Shabu & Tempura, JJ Bakery, JMP, Jang Gun, Jang Mo Jip, Java Cafe, Java Spice, Jin Mae, Joe’s Crab Shack, Jungle Teabar, Kanpai, Kee Wah, Kiki Baker, King’s Bakery, King’s Palace, Kingswood Teppan Steak House, Korea House, Korean Garden, Lee’s, Leung Kee, Little Bean, Lollicup, Long Choa Shou, Lucky Panda, MJ Cafe, Manie’s, Maxim Cafe, Michael’s Cajun Seafood, Miga, Misong Sushi, Momo, Mountain, New Capital Seafood, New Garden, New Golden City, Newport Seafood, Niko Niko, Nini Bakery, No 1 Noodle House, Nodaji, Noodle House, Ong Ga Nae, Ong Go Jib, Ono, Pan Kitchen, Pho 2007, Pho Ha, Pho Mani, Pho Noodle House, Pho Rowland, Phoenix Food Bootique, Pizza & Chicken Love Letter, Plaza Deli, President Thai, Q Noodle House, Qoo Tea Stand, Red Ant Caft, Rockstar Noodle House & Tea Bar, Rolling Wok, Rowland Garden, Royal Spring, Ruby Palace, Sam Han, Sapporo Ya, Sato, Sea Harbour Seafood, Seafood Village Rowland Heights, Seo Ho Don Katsu, Shufeng, Simbala, Splash Corner, Supreme Dragon, Taipei Golden Garden Pork Chop Noodle and Rice, Tanbi, Taoyuan Small Eatery, Tea Station, Ten Ren, The Boiling Crab, The Brochette, The Hot Pots, The Noodle Island, The Shack, Three Family Village, Tianjin Goubuli, To Ten Ko, Tofu King, Tofu Village, Toku, Tokyo Shabu Shabu, Tous Les Jours, Tutti Frutti Yogurt, Vanille De Patissierie, Vietnam Restaurant, Vip China, Wonderful Japanese Cuisine, Yang-Pyun Shin Nae, Yei San Jib, Yogurtland, Yu Chun, Yuki Sushi and Yummy House.
If you’re a chef, there are also several large markets targeted toward Asian-Americans: 99 Ranch Market,Shun Fat Supermarket (which replaced a Vons), Do Re Mi Market (formerly known as Han Gook Market),Greenland Market, Galleria Market, T S Emporium and HK2 Food District. Tim pointed out what he thought was a supermarket just selling varieties of mushroom. On inspection I surmised that these “mushrooms” were dried sea cucumbers.
STUFF TO DO FOR UNDERAGERS
Being thoroughly suburban means most of the things to do are typically suburban. There are many shopping plazas to hang out in.
The center of nightlife in the city is Diamond Plaza. On weekends, the plaza and the businesses are descended upon by young, mostly Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese and Vietnamese, who cruise the parking lot, hang out, play cards, etc.
Hong Kong Plaza is another popular destination, albeit tending to draw a somewhat older crowd.
Yes Plaza is home of Cue Studio, a popular photo/sticker joint and some of the buildings have fake, multi-story facades with shimmering lights behind them at night that give it a kind of Disney simulacrum effect. In fact, Plazas are so popular that at least two restaurants, Life Plaza and Dynasty Plaza are named after… plazas. Other plazas include Colima Plaza, Kumar Plaza, Eagle Plaza, Rowland Heights Plaza, Pacific Plaza, Golden Square and the alleys between plazas.
Rowland Heights Plaza
There are few bars (not counting Tea Bars) – 9PM, Stubby’s, Lucky 101, Beer Station and Whitney’s, a hostess bar. JJ Music Studio is a popular noraebang (song room) where you can sing karaoke with a private audience. There’s a pool halls – Man-Wha Billiard. There are some top notch arcades as well:Arcade Infinity, Tilt and MVP Shooters Club.
MOVIES & MUSIC & GAMES
I couldn’t find any movies that were filmed in Rowland Heights other than a couple of shorts, TheReclamation of David Simms and Escape. I’m sure there are some budding musicians, too. Rowland Heights, not surprisingly, has several piano stores. Amoeba has a very healthy Asian Cinema section, although one that tends to favor artier fare. There are a few really good DVD/VCD/VHS/Video Games/Music stores with a wide array of more popular stuff. Video 94 rents films and video games. Amax has a variety of music, movies and knick-knacks from China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan as well as English-singing acts favored by Asians such as Air Supply and The Carpenters. Jade focuses mostly on Chinese music and movies. Sunrize Video mostly specializes in rental of K-Dramas. There’s also KJ Video.
Special thanks to filmmaker and musician Tiffany Huang, who, as a former Hacienda Heights resident had helpful tips about Rowland Heights, where her doctor’s office was, and where she studied for her SATs.
To vote for any communities you’d like to see covered in California Fool’s Gold, name them in the comments. If you’d like a bit of inspiration, there are primers for:
- Imperial County
- Kern County
- Los Angeles County
- Angeles Forest
- the Antelope Valley
- the Channel Islands
- the Eastside
- the Harbor
- Mideast Los Angeles
- Northeast Los Angeles
- Northwest Los Angeles
- the Pomona Valley
- the San Fernando Valley
- the San Gabriel Valley
- the Santa Monica Mountains
- the South Bay
- South Los Angeles’s Eastside
- South Los Angeles’s Westside
- Southeast Los Angeles
- the Verdugos
- the Westside
- Orange County
- Riverside County
- San Bernardino County
- San Diego County
- San Luis Obispo County
- Santa Barbara County
- Ventura County
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LA, Amoeblog, Boom: A Journal of California, diaCRITICS, Hidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft Contemporary, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, the book Sidewalking, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, CurbedLA, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Ameba, Duolingo, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Mubi, and Twitter.