We've fully reached our funding goal!

Object Story and Significance:

Old and historical business signs from family- or immigrant-owned restaurants, laundries, and other businesses that were once in Chinatown are nowadays expensive and hard to come by but they provide an invaluable way for MOCA to tell the stories of families, migration, and neighborhood change. Over the course of Chinese American history, new immigrants’ work in restaurants, such as Joy Luck Restaurant (叙乐饭店) once located at 57 Mott Street, have supported families here and across the Pacific, creating openings and opportunities for migration even as their existence and persistence also evidence social and economic inequalities.

This restaurant sign, which would have been lighted from behind, was made using a technique popular in Chinatown. Individual pieces of colored acrylic were cut to form the letters of “Joy Luck Restaurant.”  The letters were then framed in thin sheet metal with a golden plastic coating layer and affixed with wire to a white acrylic background. This method gave a raised, three dimensional appearance to the letters and made the sign more legible from a distance.

The sign has been marked for potential display in MOCA’s upcoming permanent exhibition and is particularly important because it is one of the few signs stored at MOCA’s 70 Mulberry location to survive the devastating fire.

The photographs below from MOCA’s archive evidence the particularly long-running history of Joy Luck Restaurant. They show artist Dong Kingman painting watercolors on the sidewalk outside the restaurant in the 1940s, a streetscape of Mott Street with the sign hanging in the background taken by members of the Basement Workshop in the 1980s, and a reference photo of its humble green-painted storefront taken by MOCA staff in 1995.

(Click photographs to enlarge.)

2001.012.012 Historical photograph showing artist Dong Kingman painting a watercolor outside of Joy Luck Restaurant. During this era, the restaurant used a menu board stand on the sidewalk. The character 叙 is partially visible on the board behind the artist's head. Courtesy of Jip F. Chun, Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.
2013.018.019 A photograph of Mott Street with the Joy Luck Restaurant sign in the background, circa the 1980s. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Basement Workshop Collection.
1995.031.296 In this photograph, the Joy Luck Restaurant shares its modest green storefront space at 57 Mott Street with what looks to be a periodicals and curio shop. The sign can be seen hanging above. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Institutional Archives.

Details of Damage:

2004.020.004 Joy Luck Restaurant sign in its current post-fire state. Note that the original frame around the sign (see above pre-fire photo) has been lost, making it vulnerable to damage when handled.
Note the losses to the white acrylic background along the right vertical side and corners.
In cases where the letters came loose, larger pieces of wire were latched across the front of the letters. This can be seen in the first R in RESTAURANT.
Some of the letters are broken, including the letter N in RESTAURANT, which is missing a portion of green acrylic.
Note the damage on the metal frame of the U where something created a gouge in the metal.
A zoomed-in photo of the damage to the metal in the letter U.
Note the peeling of the gold coating layer.
A close-up of losses to the coating framing the letters and characters.

Post-Fire Condition:

Several of the letters are loose or broken and there are losses to the white acrylic background along the right corners and vertical side. Some of the letter frames are coming loose and there are some losses to the gold coating on the metal letter frames, notably in the word RESTAURANT. The E in RESTAURANT has some denting damage. There is a 3/4 inch x 1/2 inch hole in the white background below the S where something hit the sign from the front. Because of its size and the flexibility of the background, without an outer frame, this piece is delicate and vulnerable to loss when handled. The current mounting system seems to be three pieces of metal wire with loops at the end. A more secure mount would benefit this piece.

With the support of your donation, we would:

  • Dry and wet clean surfaces to remove soot and dirt deposits
  • Reconstruct and fill losses
  • Tone areas of letter frames where silver metal is exposed rather than the gold coating
  • Create a mount to safely store and exhibit this object

Total Conservation Cost: $4,000

With the donation from the Leung Family who owned the Joy Luck Restaurant, we reached our total fundraising goal! We are so grateful to all of our sponsors who made contributions both large and small to help us get there, and as a small way to show our appreciation, we have included an acknowledgement of all of our sponsors in the Joy Luck Restaurant sign’s catalog record in MOCA Collections’ PastPerfect database.

As its conservation treatment is now fully funded, please note that any further contributions will be put towards the sign’s exhibition display and long-term storage and care. If you would like to make a contribution, please click to navigate to MOCA’s Donate Page and be sure to specify the object you would like to sponsor. Please also kindly send a brief email to to notify us of your donation.