Mott Street (Manhattan)

Mott Street (Manhattan)

Coordinates: 40°43′11″N 73°59′47″W / 40.7196°N 73.9963°W / 40.7196; -73.9963

A busy scene on upper Mott Street
Mott Street at Chatham Square
Typical American fire escapes on Mott street

Mott Street is a narrow but busy thoroughfare that runs in a north-south direction in the borough of Manhattan in New York City in the United States. It is best known as Chinatown's unofficial "Main Street". Mott Street runs from Chatham Square in the south to Bleecker Street in the north. It is a one-way street, southbound.



Mott Street existed in its current configuration by the mid-18th century. At that time, Mott Street passed just to the east of the Collect Pond. Like many streets that predated Manhattan's grid, Mott Street meandered around natural features of the landscape rather than running through or over them. It was the need to avoid the now long since paved over Collect Pond that gave Mott Street its characteristic "bend" to the northeast at Pell Street.

Having been previously known as Old Street, as well as Winne Street (also spelled Wynne) for the section between Pell and Bleecker, Mott Street was renamed in the late 18th century to honor the prominent local family of the same name, likely in particular businessman Joseph Mott, a butcher and tavern owner who provided support to the rebel forces in the American Revolution.[1]

During the 19th century the lower portion of Mott Street south of Canal Street was part of the Five Points, a notorious slum neighborhood in New York City. In 1872 Wo Kee, a Chinese merchant opened a general store on Mott Street near Pell Street. In the years to follow, Chinese immigrants would eke out an enclave around the intersection of Mott, Doyer and Pell Streets. At the time, it was the Cantonese immigrants migrating and it first began as a very small Bachelor's Society since it was mostly Chinese males migrating over at the time. It was mostly Cantonese immigrants coming from Taishan, China so as a result it was first a Taishanese community.[2][3] That all changed during the 1960s when an influx of other Cantonese immigrants from Hong Kong began to arrive over with some Taiwanese immigrants as well. As a result, Chinatown began expanding quickly and Standard Cantonese, which is spoken in Guangzhou, China and in Hong Kong became the dominant language of the Chinatown neighborhood. At the time, Chinatown was emerging and growing as a[4] Little Hong Kong, but the growth slowed down later on.[5][6][7][8] Manhattan's Chinatown has grown into the largest Chinatown in the United States, engulfing a large swath of the Lower East Side. But the historic heart of Chinatown, as well as the primary destination for tourists is still Mott Street between Canal Street and Chatham Square. This is center of what is known as the Old Chinatown of Manhattan.[9][10]

Cantonese Gangs In The Past

For more than twenty years Cantonese gangs based on Mott street terrorized Chinatown. The Ghost Shadows made this street their territory once the On Leong Tong Gang gave their approval that had dominance on this street. The approval was not very easy since it involved a bloody battle over the territory. Nicky Louie, who immigrated from Hong Kong in the late 60s to Manhattan's Chinatown ran the Ghost Shadows gang with 50 or more members also originating from Hong Kong. With the Ghost Shadows controlling Mott Street during the 70s, they affiliated with the On Leong Tong Gang. The On Leong Tong were the wealthiest and most influential gang organization in Chinatown. Working with the On Leong benefited the Ghost Shadows a portion of money earned by the Tong's activities. The gangs were the guards of the gambling houses in the On Leong territory that operated in the poor conditions of lofts and basements along Mott Street. The gangs also ran a protection racket whereby shopkeepers paid the gangs a negotiated cash fee for protection during the period of the 80s and 90s, which often involved tea during the negotiation and it was often very peaceful.

The gangs also acted as runners in the Chinatown Connection heroin trade between the Canadian border and spreading it throughout New York. On Leong Gang was like most Chinatown gangs in the past running a legitimate enterprise, serving as a business collective, a crutch for immigrants, even a loan company. The Ghost Shadows were very seriously territorial of Mott Street and one example was a situation where The Ghost Shadows had spotted a White Eagle member walking alone and then kidnapped him into a car and threw him in the East River attempting to drown him. In the 70s, the street was the most violent gang-related period in Chinatown. Gunshots often happened and sometimes tourists would be unintentionally injured. Other gangs that existed were Chung Yee, Liang Shan, the Flying Dragons, the White Eagles and the Black Eagles[11][12][13]

Chinatown's Unofficial Main Street and Center of Cantonese Cultural Community/Little Hong Kong

Today this stretch of Mott Street is lined with souvenir shops, tea houses and restaurants, including Wo Hop restaurant at 17 Mott Street and 15 Mott Street, all catering largely to tourists. In 2003, the 32 Mott Street General Store closed due to the effects of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Chinatown economy. The proximity of the attack along with street closures in lower Manhattan (especially the ongoing closure of Park Row under One Police Plaza) had cut off much business to Chinatown. 32 Mott had been the longest continuously operating store in Chinatown, established in 1891.

Mott Street north of Canal Street was historically part of Little Italy. Today it is predominantly Chinese. This section of Mott Street between roughly Canal and Broome Streets has a number of Chinese-owned fish and vegetable markets. The commercial establishments here cater more to the day to day needs of Chinatown residents than tourists. There are also shops that sell baby jackets, bamboo hats, and miniature buddhas.

This portion of Chinatown along with the rest of the western portion of Chinatown still continues to be the main center of the Cantonese community since the beginning of Chinatown and the main Chinese business commercial district for the whole Chinatown neighborhood or known as the unofficial center of Chinatown. The western portion of Chinatown is also what was the original size and historic part of Manhattan's Chinatown or known as the Old Chinatown of Manhattan[9][10] until the eastern part of Chinatown just east of The Bowery became more fully developed due to the influx of Fuzhou immigrants primarily on the East Broadway and Eldridge Street portion, which became the new Chinatown.[14] The Bowery is the divider between the Cantonese and Fuzhou communities.[15] It continues to be a business district catering to not only the Cantonese customers of the Lower East Side, but also to Cantonese people that reside in more affluent places that are also important customers to Chinatown's businesses. The western portion of Chinatown is also a Little Hong Kong, which was a name that was used at one point to describe Manhattan's Chinatown when the Hong Kong immigrants were pouring into the Chinatown neighborhood and even though not all the Cantonese immigrants are from Hong Kong, this portion of Chinatown has strong Cantonese characteristics, especially with Standard Cantonese language, which is spoken in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China being used widely.[5][4] Most of the Chinatown Chinese-businesses still continue to be Cantonese-owned combining with still significant numbers of Cantonese residents of the Lower East Side and Cantonese from other areas contributing to the Chinatown businesses has allow Cantonese to continue to be Chinatown's lingua franca even though Mandarin as Chinatown's other lingua franca is increasing. Despite the large Fuzhou population to the eastern section of Chinatown, Mott Street with the rest of the western portion of Chinatown and with Cantonese still being an important Lingua Franca has allowed Cantonese to still dominate the Chinese cultural standards and economic resources of Chinatown. The long time established Cantonese community stretches onto Pell, Doyer, Bayard, Elizabeth, Mulberry, Canal Streets and The Bowery portion of Manhattan's Chinatown.[16][17][18]

New York Chinese School

The New York Chinese School is at 64 Mott Street. It is the largest Chinese school in North America and was established in 1909 during the Ching Dynasty of China as an overseas Chinese school. It is Chinatown's center of academic learning on Chinese culture, and history. Cantonese and Mandarin classes are also offered at this school, however the Mandarin programs have challenged the long time traditional dominance of Cantonese programs within the school.[19][20]


Though the boundary is fuzzy, the character of Mott Street changes significantly north of about Broome Street. Crossing Broome you leave Chinatown behind and enter "NoLIta" or "North of Little Italy". Fashionable boutiques and restaurants and cafes cater mostly to high income young people. There are still a few remnants of the old Italian neighborhood, most notably Lombardi's Pizzeria, purportedly the first pizzeria established in the United States.

Also in this area is Old St. Patrick's Cathedral, the first Catholic cathedral built in New York (consecrated 1815). The high walls surrounding the church along Mott Street attest to the tension between Protestants and Catholics in New York during the 19th century. The Church of the Transfiguration was also built here, making it the oldest Roman Catholic church in Manhattan.

Mott Street terminates at Bleecker Street in Manhattan's NoHo (North of Houston Street) neighborhood.

In popular culture

  • In the well-known song "Manhattan" by Rodgers and Hart, ..."And tell me what street / compares with Mott Street in July; / sweet push carts gently gliding by."
  • Mott Street is in the lyrics of Rodgers and Hart's "Manhattan" – "And tell me what street compares with Mott Street in July?"
  • Mott Street is also mentioned in the song "Lost Boys Calling" by Roger Waters as part of the movie The Legend of 1900 (soundtrack) – "And in Mott street in July / When I hear those seabirds cry"
  • In a series of short stories by pulp-writer Arthur J. Burks (All Detective Magazine, 1933–34), undercover detective Dorus Noel maintains an apartment near the intersection of Pell and Mott Streets. Burks' Chinatown is riddled with underground passages (which he describes as "rabbit warrens"), and populated by sinister villains and an inexhaustible supply of self-sacrificing Chinese hatchetmen.
  • In an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, a BTK-esque killer hid a clue on top of a pay phone on the corners of Mott Street and Grand Street.
  • Revy, one of the main characters of the manga/anime Black Lagoon, is implied to have grown up on Mott Street.
  • In Garth Ennis' initial run on The Punisher, Frank Castle's apartment is located off of Mott Street.
  • In The Godfather Part II, the Genco Olive Oil company was located on Mott Street.
  • In David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner, Susan Ricci lives at 110 Mott Street, "above the Sunshine Bakery."
  • The Beastie Boys' "Three MCs and One DJ" music video was shot in a Mott Street building, which, according to the commentary on the Beastie Boys Video Anthology DVD, was also formerly home to Sonic Youth.
  • Mott Street was where "Ragged Dick" from the Horatio, Alger jr. story of the same name found his first "lodgings".
  • In AMC-TV series Rubicon, a safe house address is listed as 701 Mott Street, Apt 2D.
  • In Mobsters, Mott Street was referred to as the street where Lucky Luciano grew up and eventually rose to power.


  1. ^ Moscow, Henry The Street Book: An Encyclopedia of Manhattan's Street Names and Their Origins New York: Hagstrom 1978. ISBN 0823212750
  2. ^ "The new Chinatown – Peter Kwong – Google Books". Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Illegal immigration in America: a ... – David W. Haines, Karen Elaine Rosenblum – Google Books". Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "Reluctant exiles?: migration from ... – Ronald Skeldon – Google Books". Google Books. December 24, 1986. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "The Hong Kong reader: passage to ... – Ming K. Chan, Gerard A. Postiglione – Google Books". Google Books. July 1, 1997. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  6. ^ "God in Chinatown: religion and ... – Kenneth J. Guest – Google Books". Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  7. ^ Semple, Kirk (October 21, 2009). "Mandarin Eclipses Cantonese, Changing the Sound of Chinatown". The New York Times. Chinatown (NYC). Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Surviving the City: the Chinese ... – Xinyang Wang – Google Books". Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b "National Geographic Traveler: New ... – Michael S. Durham – Google Books". Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  10. ^ a b "Frommer's Memorable Walks in New York – Reid Bramblett – Google Books". Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  11. ^ Kurutz, Steven (November 2, 2008). "The Voice – Author Henry Chang Raises the Veil on Crime in Chinatown". The New York Times. Chinatown (NYC). Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  12. ^ "New York City Chinatown > Newspaper Articles". January 31, 1977. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  13. ^ "New York City Chinatown > Newspaper Articles". Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Surviving the City: the Chinese ... – Xinyang Wang – Google Books". Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Smuggled Chinese: clandestine ... – Ko-lin Chin – Google Books". Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  16. ^ "Let's Go USA – Let's Go, Inc. – Google Books". Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  17. ^ "The Rough Guide to New York – Andrew Rosenberg, Martin Dunford – Google Books". Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  18. ^ "The power of urban ethnic places ... – Jan Lin – Google Books". Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  19. ^ "New York Chinese School Website". Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  20. ^ "American Chinatown: a people's ... – Bonnie Tsui – Google Books". Google Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 

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