Iconic red lanterns return to SF's Chinatown after being destroyed by winter storms

"They're iconic. It's part of us. It's part of Chinatown."

ByTim Johns KGO logo
Tuesday, August 8, 2023
Iconic red lanterns return to SF's Chinatown after being destroyed
After being destroyed by the Bay Area storms, San Francisco's famous red lanterns are giving Chinatown vibrancy once again.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Dangling high above the streets of San Francisco's Chinatown, is a sight both old and new.

"They're iconic. It's part of us. It's part of Chinatown. You kind of have to have it," said Maria Szeto, the owner of Canton Bazaar.

For the past ten years, these red lanterns have welcomed locals and visitors along Grant Avenue.

That was until earlier this year, when the heavy rains and atmospheric rivers of the winter largely destroyed them.

"They were all tattered, all torn, all faded. It was just horrible. And then you would see missing lanterns because they got blown off," Szeto said.

Now, after months of fundraising, 180 new lanterns have gone up.

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A welcome sight for tourists and local business owners, who say the extra foot traffic the lanterns bring helps business.

"There's a lot of people here walking around the streets taking pictures with their families," said Lorena Montes of KIM + ONO.

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The lanterns do a lot more than just bring the tourists back to Chinatown though. They're also a way to help keep people safe.

That includes Eva Lee, the co-chair of Chinatown Merchants Association.

Lee says since the pandemic the neighborhood has been hit by an increasing number of anti-Asian hate crimes.

She tells me the lanterns provide a form of security for those wanting to walk the streets after the sun sets.

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Sasanna Yee's grandmother, Yik Oi Huang, was attacked in 2019 and died from her injuries one year later as a new wave of violence hit the Asian American community.

"This has been the hardest time for us, in my lifetime. Besides just the devastation of the pandemic and Chinatown being like a ghost town practically," Lee said.

There will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the lanterns on Tuesday.

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And for Lee, she hopes they serve as a beacon of hope and resilience.

Not just for the neighborhood that she loves, but also for the entire city.

"We saw these lanterns in shreds and tattered and felt down and out, but no. This is to show you we can come back."

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