HomeAsian AmericansOvernight fire burns cornerstone building in New York Chinatown, devastating community

Overnight fire burns cornerstone building in New York Chinatown, devastating community

Screen capture of video by Joe Chan via Facebook.

By Shirley Ng, AsAmNews Staff Writer

A fire broke out yesterday evening at a cornerstone building in New York’s Chinatown, less than two days away from the Lunar New Year, a holiday that typically attracts many visitors in celebration.

The brownstone building on 70 Mulberry Street that caught fire last night before 9 p.m. contained the archives of the Museum of Chinese in America on its second floor. Many Chinatown artifacts, photos, documents and more are now feared to be damaged or destroyed.

The building also served as the headquarters for many local nonprofits. Some organizations, such as the Chen Dance Center on the second floor, have called the building home for 40 years. A senior center on the ground floor is also now burned out.   

Facebook video of the fire from Chinatown resident Joe Chan.

On Twitter last night, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio described the building as a “pillar to the Chinatown community.”

“I know the neighborhood is in shock tonight,” he wrote. “We’re going to help the community get through this.”

After the fire, many people took to social media to share that they, their parents, or their grandparents had been students at the building when it had previously been the location of PS23, a New York City public school. Former graduates include Chinatown native and author Henry Chang, as well as New York City councilwoman Margaret Chin.

In a Tweet last night, Chin highlighted the workforce development, cultural programs and senior center that the building provided.

“We will work to make sure vital services aren’t lost,” she said.

Chin also pointed out on Twitter this morning that many elders in the community visit the senior center for a meal on the eve of Lunar New Year if they can’t celebrate with their families, and said her team is working to find a space for them.

Photos of the building this morning show the roof has burned out and the New York Fire Department continuously hosing down the building as it continues to smolder.

Eleven people are reported to have suffered minor injuries and smoke inhalation, including a 59-year-old man who was hospitalized with minor injuries. There are no updates on his condition.

The fire allegedly began on the fourth floor at Chinatown Manpower Project, a nonprofit which provides services for disadvantaged immigrants and refugees, according to its website.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. 

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