Portland's oldest Chinese restaurant, Hung Far Low, has closed its doors, citing unaffordable rent hikes. The owners were not able to be reached for comment, but a note on the door reads:
After being in business 87 years and 10 years on 82nd Avenue, we will be closing today (9/14/15) due to our lease. It was a pleasure serving and getting to know each of our customers. Please stay tuned on our Facebook page for our future location.
Hung Far Low Family and Staff"
In 1928 restaurateur Wong On opened Hung Far Low (meaning "almond blossom fragrance") in what was then known as New Chinatown. A decade earlier, a different restaurant by the same, snicker-inducing name was located at the edge of Old Chinatown, in the heart of today's downtown.
When the second Hung Far Low—the one we all came to know and love—opened its doors on NW 4th Avenue and Couch, Portland's Chinatown had begun its relocation from the heart of downtown to the area that came to be known as New Chinatown.
Why did it move in the first place? Here's a quick primer on Portland's Chinese history: Between the 1850s and 1890s, Chinese immigration to Portland was so high that by the turn of the 20th century, we had the second largest Chinatown in the United States (next to San Francisco). We also had, and have, the second-oldest.
Then, between 1900 and 1915, Portland underwent a building boom in response to the City Beautiful movement sweeping the nation's major cities. The original Old Chinatown had been in the center of a disastrous fire in 1906, and at the time, property values were climbing. There had already been plans (mostly by white property owners) to relocate Chinatown to the north, and although some Chinese merchants resisted the change, Chinatown gradually lost its core in the center of downtown and moved north ten blocks, overlapping with the black neighborhood between Everett and Flanders. By 1926, the backbone of New Chinatown was along NW 4th Avenue.
Although the cultural centers of historic Chinatown (like the Lan Su Chinese Gardens and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association headquarters) remain in Old Town, the culinary center of Chinatown—the Jade District—now largely resides along SE 82nd Avenue, spilling east and west for a mile or two down the arterial main streets.
Hung Far Low had been an early adopter of the new neighborhood, having moved to 82nd and Division a decade ago. Much like seemingly everywhere in Portland these days, the neighborhood is growing up and pricing out its anchors.
Zàijiàn, Hung Far Low. May your fragrance carry on the breeze again.
—Heather Arndt Anderson