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East Broadway begins at Chatham Square (also known as Kimlau Square) and runs eastward under the Manhattan Bridge, continues past Seward Park and the eastern end of Canal Street, and ends at Grand Street.
The western portion of the street has evolved into the neighborhood known as Little Fuzhou, or Manhattan's Fuzhou Town (福州埠, 紐約華埠), primarily populated by Chinese immigrants (mainly Foochowese who emigrated from Fuzhou, Fujian), while the eastern portion was traditionally home to a large number of Jews. One section in the eastern part of East Broadway, between Clinton Street and Pitt Street, has been unofficially referred to by residents as "Shteibel Way", since it has been lined with up to ten small synagogues ("shteibels") in its history.
East Broadway was home to a large Jewish community on the Lower East Side and then later on Puerto Ricans began to settle onto this street and African Americans were also residing on this street.
During the 1960s, an influx of Hong Kong immigrants were arriving over along with Taiwanese immigrants as well into Manhattan's Chinatown. Subsequently, Cantonese people and businesses also began to settle onto this street, as Manhattan's Chinatown was expanding into other parts of the Lower East Side, and Manhattan's Chinatown Chinese population was vastly Cantonese-dominated at the time. During this time period, Manhattan's Chinatown was being referred as a growing Little Hong Kong. Vietnamese people also began to settle on this street as well.
During this time, East Broadway had not evolved into a Little Fuzhou enclave yet, however small numbers of Fuzhou immigrants have existed around the area of Division Street and East Broadway as early as the 1970s and early 1980s, including the Fujianese gang named the Fuk Ching. Although the Chinese population have been increasing in this portion of the Lower East Side since the 1960s, however until the 1980s, the western portion of Manhattan's Chinatown was the most fully Chinese populated and developed and flourishing as a busy Chinese business district, while East Broadway along with the eastern portion of Chinatown east of the Bowery was developing more slowly as being part of Chinatown. The eastern portion of Manhattan's Chinatown had lower and scattered numbers of Chinese residents and higher numbers of Non-Chinese residents mainly Latinos and Jewish than Manhattan's Chinatown's western portion.
During the 1970s and 1980s, East Broadway was one of the many streets east of the Bowery heading deeper onto the Lower East Side that many people were afraid to walk through or even reside in due to poor building structures and high crime rates such as gang related activities, robberies, building burglaries, and rape as well as fear of racial tensions since other ethnic people were still residing in the area. Very often criminals many of them Hispanics and Blacks targeted Chinese immigrants to harass them. In addition, businesses were often very few and significant numbers of unoccupied properties. Chinese female garment workers heading home were often high targets of mugging and rape and many of them leaving work to go home often left together as a group for safety reasons.
It was during the 1980s and 1990s, when an influx of Fuzhou immigrants flooded East Broadway and a Little Fuzhou enclave evolved on the street, that East Broadway emerged as a distinctly identifiable neighborhood within Chinatown itself, also known as the New Chinatown of Manhattan. The Fuzhou immigrants often speak Mandarin along with their Fuzhou dialect. Most of the other Mandarin speakers were settling in and creating a more Mandarin-Speaking Chinatown or Mandarin Town (國語埠) in Flushing, and eventually an even newer one in Elmhurst, both in Queens, because they could not relate to the traditional Cantonese dominance in Manhattan's Chinatown. The Fuzhou immigrants were the exceptional non-Cantonese Chinese group to settle largely in Manhattan's Chinatown, before themselves expanding eventually, on an even larger scale, to the Brooklyn Chinatown (布鲁克林華埠). As many Fuzhou immigrants came without immigration paperwork and were forced into low paying jobs, Manhattan's Chinatown was the only place for them to be around other Chinese people and receive affordable housing despite Manhattan's Chinatown's traditional Cantonese dominance that lasted until the 1990s. During the 1990s-2000s, it was primary cultural center for the Fuzhou immigrants in NYC, but since the mid to late 2000s, the rapid gentrification has been causing the Fuzhou residents and businesses to decline rapidly in the neighborhood. Since the 2000s, the influx of the growing Fuzhou population into NYC immediately shifted into Brooklyn's Chinatown, which during the 1990s was a small Cantonese enclave and transformed by the late 2000s and early 2010s into being NYC's largest Fuzhou community very quickly and largely replaced and marginalized Manhattan's Chinatown's East Broadway as the cultural and business center for the Fuzhou people in New York and nationally.
A substantial number of Fuzhou immigrants have been displaced due to rising rents in the neighborhood. The 2010 U.S. Census found that about 6,000 Chinese residents of Chinatown (about 17% of the neighborhood's Chinese residents) were displaced from the neighborhood in the preceding decade. In 2014, Sing Tao Daily reported that "the population of new immigrants, especially those from Fujian province, is much smaller compared to 10 years ago." Affordable-housing advocates view landlords "who deliberately make their own buildings unlivable, through vandalism, harassment, nuisance construction, legal intimidation, and outright threats, as a way to drive out rent-stabilized tenants and charge 'market rate' for their units" as a major problem in the neighborhood, with some landlords being investigated over such efforts. The local publication Downtown Express reported that "illegally subdivided, single-room occupancy units are common in Chinatown and other parts of the city where low-income tenants are willing to live in poor conditions in exchange for inexpensive rents."
In a July 2018 report from Voices of NY, Fuzhou owned businesses have been declining on East Broadway due to the rents being too expensive and now there are many empty storefronts on the street. In addition, Fuzhou consumers that used to travel to East Broadway for shopping and business errands have largely shifted to traveling to Flushing's Chinatown in Queens and Sunset Park's Chinatown in Brooklyn, the latter of which had become the city's largest Fuzhou enclave by 2018. East Broadway has now become a lot quieter with fewer people walking around as a result of these factors in addition to the fact that large numbers of Fuzhou speakers are moving out of Manhattan's Chinatown and the presence of high income professionals often non-Asian as well as high end hipster businesses are now increasingly growing in the area.
In the past, East Broadway was very well known to the Chinese population for having two Chinese theaters, as several other Chinese theaters were located in different parts of Chinatown. However, all of the Chinese movie theaters have closed in Chinatown.
In 1911, the Florence theater with 980 seats opened under the Manhattan Bridge on 75–85 East Broadway showing Yiddish entertainment. Next to the theater, there was also a furniture shop named Solerwitz & Law, est. 1886.
It was then converted as the New Canton Theater in 1942. It featured Cantonese operas and other types of performances such as "Selling Rough", "Beauty on the Palm", and "The Beautiful Butterflies" to name on record. The performances often featured 1,400-year-old Chinese tradition usually based on folklore. Cantonese opera was very often looked down on by westerners as sounding annoying, inhuman and distasteful.
A professional Cantonese opera troupe, Tai Wah Wing came from Hong Kong to New York in 1940 to perform and changed their name to Nau Joek Sen Zung Wa Ban Nam Ney Keik Tin (New York New China Mixed Opera Company) once arriving in New York. Being that they were stranded in New York by World War II with 20 male and 7 female actors along with six musicians, they kept the New Canton Theater active and going for 10 years with their nightly performances of classical Cantonese opera on Mondays-Saturdays from 7 pm-11:30 pm and on Sundays from 6 pm-10:30 pm. At one time in 1941 Claude Lévi-Strauss witnessed their performance while he was in New York serving as a cultural adviser for the French Embassy. When the theater was renamed as Sun Sing theater in 1950, during that same time they once again changed their troupe name to Nam Ney Keik Tin (Mixed Opera Company). Once they discontinued during May 1950, the over-half-century-long tradition of Cantonese opera performances ended in the Chinatown neighborhood and then the Sun Sing theater during the same year began to feature Chinese films with English subtitles included sometimes.
It was in danger of being torn down because of an additional deck being added onto the Manhattan Bridge, but it was saved when city engineers used bridge supports and seats had to be eliminated for the bridge supports. In 1972, the theater started to provide diverse entertainments of film and stage performances. Like many movie theaters, the theater also sold snacks with also Chinese snacks such as preserved plum, dried cuttlefish, and shrimp chips.
During the last 15 years of the theater's existence under the Manhattan Bridge with the B, D, and Q trains rumbling loudly above on the north side of the bridge, it featured wild films involving battles and violence. During its final years with 800 seats, the theater began doing outreach to attract more non-Chinese audiences by adding names of customers onto their mailing list while handing out hard copies of synopsis translated in English about each movie being shown at the moment to customers. It was finally closed in 1993 with Robert Tam being the final owner.
In 1964, Lucas Liang who was a restaurateur and the president of the Catherine enterprises opened the Pagoda theater at 11 East Broadway on the corner of Catherine Street after eight months of construction and after many directors, mostly restaurant operators all together raised $400,000 to build the theater. Paul R. Screvane, president of the City Council at the time was invited as a guest of honor to the ceremony on the opening of the theater.
The seating capacities accommodated 492 seats. The theater featured Chinese films with English subtitles. On the weekend mornings, cartoons in English were shown to children. There was also a room facility where there was a coffee bar selling Chinese and American food products with a color television set.
There was one incident in 1977 where there was a shootout in the crowded theater killing two members of the Ghost Shadows Gang. Michael Chen, a leader of the Flying Dragons of the 70s in Manhattan's Chinatown was convicted and later acquitted for those charges of that incident and he was eventually murdered in 1982. At the time, gang violence was very prevalent in the Chinatown neighborhood including the rivalry of the Ghost Shadows and Flying Dragons.
The theater then closed around the late 1980s to early 1990s. After it was closed, there was one plan by a local builder to build a hotel in the location, but it was later realized that it would not work due to not having the financial resources.
In 1988, Glory China Development Ltd., of Hong Kong bought the property land and opened Glory China Tower in 1991. The bank was a tenant of Ka Wah Bank from Hong Kong owned by CITIC Group located in China. However, it was converted into a HSBC bank much later on.
Under the Manhattan Bridge (B, D, N, and Q trains) lies the "East Broadway Mall" across the street from the previous location of Sun Sing Theater. This mall is the main gathering commercial section for the Fuzhou immigrants in the United States including the 88 Palace Restaurant serving Hong Kong style dim sum meals upstairs of the Mall.
Since the 1990s and the 2000s, the mall has been the center of contributing to the growth of Chinese restaurant businesses all over the United States. Many of the employment agencies are located at this mall sending many of the Fuzhou workers to all-you-can-eat buffets. The opening of Goyow, a Chinese prepaid debit card company, has also contributed to the popularity of this mall, as new Chinese immigrants visit the mall to buy a card that allows them to gain access to a Visa card, which they would be unable to otherwise achieve via traditional banks.
Chinese buses are also stationed at this mall to accommodate the Fuzhou restaurant workers to locations where they have been arranged by the employment agencies. Though since the 2010s, these trends have been declining drastically as many of the employment agencies vacated the neighborhood and moved to Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood, which is now home to Brooklyn's Little Fuzhou and has now taken over as the largest Fuzhou enclave of New York City and even some to Flushing's Chinatown. Many of the Fuzhou customers coming from other outer states that used to travel to East Broadway by bus for commerce and errands have now dramatically shifted in large numbers to traveling to Brooklyn's Little Fuzhou for commerce and errands and secondarily to Flushing's Chinatown, which has resulted in now very few Fuzhou customers traveling by bus into the East Broadway area.
In the past, there have been issues with the restaurant managers of 88 Palace taking advantage of the Fuzhou workers by taking their tips, making nasty insults and giving them responsibilities that they were not supposed to be assigned to, which then led to lawsuits. Since the managers knew many of them were undocumented, they used their advantage to terminate of their employment of the ones who threatened legal actions against them.
There has also been issues where the mall owners have been accused of illegally increasing the rents at very high rates on tenants who have been longtime small businesses as an attempt to gentrify the mall. This resulted in protests against the mall owners. There have been accusations that the mall owners were prejudice against Fuzhou immigrant shopkeepers and threatened to clean them out of the mall. One example was a female tenant named Mei Rong Song, originally paying rent less than $3,000 a month, it increased dramatically to $12,000 in 2008. Mei Rong Song went into disagreement with her new rent rate and began fighting the eviction proceedings in court. In retaliation, the mall's managers closed Mei Rong Song's heat and water services to her 280-square-foot (26 m2) space.
The property is city-owned and it was once vacant until in 1985, the city signed a 50-year lease with a developer building the East Broadway Mall. It was originally owned by the Cantonese, the restaurant upstairs was originally named "Triple Eight Palace" and the shops were primarily Cantonese. However, when East Broadway became the main gathering place for newly arrived Fuzhou immigrants, Fuzhou owned storefronts slowly grew at this mall and over time completely occupying the mall. Eventually the ownership of the mall was entirely sold to Fuzhou owners.
However, since the 2010s, gentrification has been rapidly increasing in the area, which also has affected the rent prices of the storefront spaces resulting in many of the businesses to move out causing a large influx of them to now be empty and often the new businesses that would take over the spaces would stay only a short period and then close. By 2018 there was an art gallery occupying a storefront space.
Similar vacancies have also been occurring across the street at 75 East Broadway (東方商場, literally East Coast Mall), however, their whole second floor eventually became entirely occupied by art galleries and a music store leaving only the ground floor to have remaining Chinese storefronts.
The COVID-19 pandemic in New York City accelerated the trend of the vacancies at these malls. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic since March 2020 in New York City, the 88 Palace restaurant located on the second floor of East Broadway Mall has currently closed, though there has been no confirmed sources of if this closure is temporary or permanent, but because of the recent declining customers from the neighborhood as a result of gentrification and now with the Covid-19 pandemic and its restrictions making business operations and the already declining consumerism to further deteriorate even more so, the possibility of this restaurant reopening in the future will be very difficult as well as the business outlook of East Broadway Mall is looking very grim.
Under the Manhattan Bridge, there is also a New York Supermarket serving to the Fuzhou community as the largest Chinese Supermarket selling different food varieties. There was also another large supermarket named Hong Kong Supermarket located on this street, however it was destroyed in a fire. Parallel to this newly established Fuzhou community, another New York Supermarket also opened up on Mott Street and as well as a new Hong Kong Supermarket opened on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Hester Street serving as the largest Chinese supermarkets within the long-established Cantonese community on the other side of Manhattan's Chinatown.
The Jewish Daily Forward erected a ten-story office building at 175 East Broadway, designed by architect George Boehm and completed in 1912. It was a prime location, across the street from Seward Park. The building was embellished with marble columns and panels and stained glass windows. The facade features carved bas relief portraits of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, (who co-authored, with Marx, The Communist Manifesto) and Ferdinand Lassalle, founder of the first mass German labor party. A fourth relief portrays a person whose identity has not been clearly established, and has been identified as Wilhelm Liebknecht, Karl Liebknecht, or August Bebel. In the real estate boom of the 1990s, the building was converted to condominiums.
Main article: Seward Park (Manhattan)
The M9 bus runs on East Broadway in both directions between Chatham Square and Canal Street. The downtown M22 bus runs westward on East Broadway between Pike Street and Chatham Square. The East Broadway station of the IND Sixth Avenue Line (F and <F> trains) is located at East Broadway and Rutgers Street.
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