Landmarks Calendars Kimlau War Memorial for Landmark Designation

The Kimlau War Memorial. Image Credit: NYC LPC.

The arch features traditional Chinese architectural styles. On May 4, 2021, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to calendar the Kimlau War Memorial in Chinatown, Manhattan for designation. The Kimlau War Memorial, a granite ceremonial gateway arch with two benches, is located in Kimlau Square Park at the intersection of Chatham Square, Oliver Street and East Broadway.

The arch was sponsored by the Lieutenant B.R. Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post 1291 of the American Legion to honor Chinese American soldiers who died during military service. The arch is named after Second Lieutenant Benjamin Ralph Kimlau, a Chinese American pilot who was killed in action in 1944 while attacking Japanese military installations in the South Pacific during World War II. The arch, dedicated in 1962, features inscriptions in English and Chinese dedicated to the memory of Chinese American soldiers.

The arch was designed by architect Poy Gum Lee. Lee was born in Chinatown on Mott Street in 1900, and was educated at Pratt, MIT, and Columbia. In the early 1920s he worked in Chicago and New York for architecture firms like Murphy McGill & Hamlin and J.B. Snook & Sons. In 1923, he began to work as a staff architect for the YMCA in China. He spent the next two decades in Shanghai designing commercial and institutional buildings in blended styles with Art Deco and International Style features with traditional Chinese vernacular forms. Lee returned to New York after World War II where he joined the New York City Housing Authority as a senior architect. He also operated his own architecture practice in Chinatown, where he designed purpose-built structures for Chinese community organizations and storefront and facade alterations for smaller commercial clients. 

Lee’s incorporation of traditional Chinese architectural styles is seen in the Kimlau War Memorial, which features a peaked roof, interlocking brackets and a symmetrical configuration. The arch serves as both decorative and a physical gateway, as its location sits between the oldest section of Chinatown (Mott, Pell and Doyers Streets) which date back to the late 1800s and East Broadway heading toward the Manhattan Bridge, which has been an important commercial corridor for Chinatown since the 1970s.

The monument is currently owned by the New York City Parks Department. The Kimlau War Memorial would be the first New York City designated landmark specifically related to Chinese American history and culture. The timing of the calendaring coincides with the start of National Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which is observed each May. 

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold a public hearing on the designation on a later date.

By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)


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