The Lee Family of New York Chinatown Since 1888

October 23, 2013-April 13, 2014

Press Preview: Tuesday, October 22, 10:00a.m. – 11:00a.m.


[New York, NY] October 14, 2013 -The Museum of Chinese in America is pleased to announce the launch of a new exhibition exploring the legacy of one major Chinatown family business over 125 years in New York – The Lee Family of New York Chinatown Since 1888, on view from October 23, 2013 through April 13, 2014.


Harold L. Lee and Sons, Inc., is a cornerstone of Chinatown. From its modest origins as a grocery store on 31 Pell Street in 1888, the Lee family rose to prominence through the decades to become one of the most influential businesses in New York. This exhibition offers a unique glimpse of Chinatown’s cultural and economic landscape over the decades, through the historical lens of a multi-generational family business. From film distribution, retail, insurance brokerage, to foreign currency exchange, the Lee family’s businesses responded to the needs of the Chinese immigrant community in America.


Herb Tam, curator and MOCA’s Director of Exhibitions said, “What’s remarkable about the Lee family story, is how timely their various businesses were, in helping to shape and sustain the Chinatown community during some very challenging times.”


The exhibition is presented in an authentic recreated space of an original Chinese business storefront, complete with exquisite tin ceilings. The Lee family has been instrumental in providing artifacts, photographs, and even a rare kinescope of an early CBS television broadcast from 1956.


“In the course of providing the historical research and documentation for the exhibition, we came to have a much deeper appreciation of our family’s history, which is strongly interwoven into Chinatown’s development over 125 years. It has been a fascinating journey of discovery for us and we hope others will find it interesting as well,” said Sandra Lee Kawano, granddaughter of Harold L. Lee.


In the 1940s, Harold L. Lee and Sons, Inc. were the first to offer cinematic screenings of Chinese films in Chinatown in their family-owned Silver Star movie theatre. Other stories in the exhibition relate back to the Chinese immigrant story. The Immigrant and Nationality Act of 1965 eased restrictions for Asian immigration into America and the Lee family set up the one of the first travel agencies to help connect and reunite Chinese families.


For more information, please check out the online exhibition page here


This exhibition is made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts (Museums Program), celebrating 50 years of building strong, creative communities in New York State’s 62 counties, and with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the Lee family.


About Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)

MOCA’s mission is to celebrate the living history of the Chinese experience in America, to inspire our diverse communities to contribute to America’s evolving cultural narrative and civil society, and to empower and bridge our communities across generations, ethnicities and geography through our dynamic stories.


For more info and upcoming events, please visit


Monday – Closed
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday – 11am-6pm
Thursday – 11am-9pm
Target Free Thursdays: Free gallery admission is through the generosity of Target.


General Admission: $10
Seniors (65+ with ID) and Students (w/school ID): $5
Children under 12 in groups less than 8: Free
MOCA Members: Free