Asian Garden Mall: A Taste of Vietnam in the Heart of Westminster, CA

Introduction to Asian Garden Mall

Asian Garden Mall, prominently located at 9200 Bolsa Avenue in Westminster, California, stands as a landmark within the vibrant Little Saigon area.

Since its inauguration in 1987, this mall has been a commercial hub and a cultural epicenter for the Vietnamese-American community.

As the first and largest Vietnamese-American shopping mall in the United States, Asian Garden Mall, also known as Phước Lộc Thọ, has become a pivotal destination for both locals and visitors interested in things to do in Los Angeles, CA.

Historical Context

The Asian Garden Mall’s story is deeply intertwined with the narrative of Vietnamese immigration and settlement in Orange County.

Following the Fall of Saigon in 1975, a significant number of Vietnamese refugees relocated to this region.

Recognizing the need for a communal and commercial space, the mall was developed by Bridgecreek Development, a real estate firm spearheaded by Frank Jao, a Vietnamese entrepreneur with Chinese roots.

The mall’s opening marked a significant milestone in establishing Little Saigon as a thriving ethnic enclave.

Cultural Significance

Beyond its role as a retail center, Asian Garden Mall has been a focal point for numerous cultural and political events within the Vietnamese-American community.

It serves as a shopping destination and a venue where cultural traditions are preserved and celebrated.

The mall has played a crucial role in maintaining the Vietnamese diaspora’s cultural fabric in Southern California, from hosting the vibrant Tết (Vietnamese New Year) celebrations to being a gathering place for political rallies.

Its presence underscores the resilience and entrepreneurial spirit of the Vietnamese-American community, making it a symbol of cultural pride and heritage.

The Development and Growth of the Mall

Early Development

The Asian Garden Mall’s inception can be traced back to the late 1980s, a period marked by the rapid growth of the Vietnamese community in Orange County.

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Spearheaded by Bridgecreek Development, the mall’s construction began in 1986 as a part of a broader development plan for the area along Bolsa Avenue.

This project was a visionary step by Frank Jao, aiming to create a commercial and cultural hub for the burgeoning Vietnamese-American community.

Expansion and Investor Involvement

The development of Asian Garden Mall was a significant undertaking involving substantial capital investment from a diverse group of Asian investors.

Notably, the mall’s development coincided with establishing the 99 Ranch Market, a prominent Asian supermarket chain, which opened its first location in the nearby Asian Village shopping center in 1985.

The total cost of the Asian Garden Mall project was estimated at $15 million, a substantial investment at the time, reflecting the project’s ambitious scale.

Challenges and Adaptations

In the mid-1990s, the mall faced challenges maintaining relevance, particularly as younger Vietnamese Americans began integrating more into mainstream society.

In response, the developers proposed various initiatives to attract a broader audience.

One such proposal was the construction of a pedestrian bridge, Harmony Bridge, to connect Asian Garden Mall with Asian Village.

However, this plan faced opposition due to its perceived overemphasis on Chinese cultural elements, leading to its eventual cancellation.

Architectural and Cultural Features

Distinctive Architecture

Asian Garden Mall is renowned for its distinctive architectural style, which reflects the rich heritage of the Vietnamese and Chinese-Vietnamese communities.

The mall’s design features a traditional green-tiled roof, an ornate gateway, and a curved roof with ridge ornaments at the entrance, creating an inviting and culturally resonant atmosphere for visitors.

Cultural Symbols and Decorations

Inside the mall, visitors are greeted with various Vietnamese and Asian cultural symbols.

These include red paper lanterns, fans, and multiple statues and figurines, all contributing to an authentic cultural experience.

The decor not only enhances the aesthetic appeal of the mall but also serves as a celebration of Vietnamese cultural identity.

Statues and Shrines

A notable feature of the mall is the presence of statues representing the three deities Phước, Lộc, and Thọ, symbolizing fortune, prosperity, and longevity, respectively.

Additionally, the mall houses a Taoist shrine dedicated to Guan Yu, further emphasizing its cultural and spiritual significance to the community.

These elements underscore the mall’s role as a space where cultural traditions and religious practices are respected and upheld.

Stores and Services at Asian Garden Mall

Diverse Range of Stores

Asian Garden Mall has approximately 300 stores offering various products and services.

These stores include jewelry shops like Hien Hoa Jewelry and Kim Hue Diamond & Jewelry, showcasing exquisite craftsmanship.

Clothing stores such as AK Collection and BB Fashion cater to different fashion preferences, while specialty shops like Bich Thu Van Music & Gift provide cultural and musical items.

The mall also houses many beauty and health-related stores, including BL Miracle & EV Princess Cosmetics and Gangnam Style, offering a range of beauty products.

Food and Culinary Experience

The culinary offerings at Asian Garden Mall are a highlight, with the food court presenting a diverse range of Vietnamese cuisine.

Eateries like #1 Pho & Grill and Asian Garden Fast Food serve traditional Vietnamese dishes, while Champagne Bakery combines Vietnamese and French pastries.

The food court is a bustling area where visitors can enjoy authentic dishes such as bánh mì, phở, and a variety of rice dishes, along with beverages like Vietnamese iced coffee and fruit smoothies.

Services and Amenities

Besides its array of shops and dining options, Asian Garden Mall offers a range of services designed to meet the diverse requirements of its patrons.

These include Ace Dental for dental care, Eye Smart Optometry for eye health, and Luan’s iTech for technology services.

The mall also features services like Van Quan Tailor for clothing alterations and Mobile Maxx for mobile phone needs, ensuring a comprehensive shopping experience for all visitors.

Community Events and Activities

Annual Events

Asian Garden Mall is a shopping destination and a cultural hub hosting several annual events that draw large crowds.

The Tết Parade, marking the Vietnamese New Year, is a significant event with firecrackers and festivities.

The mall’s parking lot transforms into a vibrant night market during summer weekends, offering snacks and entertainment reminiscent of night markets in Vietnam.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is also celebrated with various shows, adding to the community’s cultural richness.

Cultural and Community Impact

These events are crucial in maintaining and promoting Vietnamese culture in the area.

The Tết Parade and Mid-Autumn Festival are not only cultural celebrations but also serve as gatherings that strengthen community bonds.

The night market, in particular, attracts younger visitors, bridging the gap between generations and keeping cultural traditions alive among the youth.

Recent Events

In recent years, the mall has adapted to changing circumstances. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the mall creatively utilized its space by turning the parking lot into an open-air market.

This adaptation ensured business continuity and provided a safe shopping environment for visitors.

Post-pandemic, the mall has resumed its full operations and continues to host events like the Hiroline Holiday Fair, demonstrating its resilience and ongoing relevance to the community.

Annual Events and Festivities

The mall is the center of many cultural and political events in the Vietnamese-American community. Some of the most significant annual events include:

Tết Parade: Annually, during Tết (Vietnamese Lunar New Year), the stretch of Bolsa Avenue that passes through the mall serves as the starting point for the Tết Parade, organized by the city of Westminster. Firecrackers are set off before the mall to signal the start of the parade.

Tết Holiday Market: In the weeks leading up to Tết, the mall’s parking lot transforms into a festive market, selling flowers and Tết-related items.

Within the mall, contests for crafting bánh chưng, decorating fruits, and donning the traditional áo dài attract a large number of participants.

Summer Night Market: During summer weekends, the front parking area of Asian Garden Mall comes alive as it converts into a bustling night market, offering a variety of snacks and drawing in a younger crowd.

The night market offers a taste of Vietnamese culture, reminiscent of night markets in Vietnam, and attracts around 3,000 visitors each night.

Mid-Autumn Festival: During the Mid-Autumn Festival, variety shows are staged in front of the Asian Garden Mall, highlighting the rich cultural heritage of the Vietnamese-American community.

The Mall’s Role in the Vietnamese-American Community

Symbol of the Vietnamese Community

Asian Garden Mall has transcended its role as a mere shopping center to become a symbol of the Vietnamese-American community’s presence and influence in Orange County and beyond.

It is a testament to the community’s resilience, entrepreneurial spirit, and cultural vibrancy.

The mall is a commercial hub and a cultural beacon, showcasing the rich heritage and traditions of the Vietnamese diaspora.

Political Significance

Over the years, Asian Garden Mall has also become a significant venue for political engagement within the Vietnamese-American community.

It has hosted rallies and events for prominent political figures, including visits from presidential candidates and local politicians.

These events underscore the mall’s importance as a political discourse and engagement platform, highlighting the community’s growing influence in American politics.

Community Space and Landmark

Beyond its commercial and political significance, the Asian Garden Mall serves as a communal space for socializing and cultural exchange.

It is where older people meet to play Chinese chess, friends gather for coffee, and families come together for shopping and dining.

As the most recognizable landmark in Little Saigon, the mall is a central meeting point and a symbol of community unity.

Asian Garden Mall in Westminster
Asian Garden Mall” by khue_cai is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Conclusion

Reflecting on Asian Garden Mall’s Impact

Asian Garden Mall, since its establishment in 1987, has grown to be much more than a shopping destination.

It is a vibrant center of commerce, culture, and community for the Vietnamese-American population in Westminster, CA.

The mall’s unique blend of traditional and modern elements, its diverse range of stores and services, and its role in hosting significant cultural and political events all contribute to its status as a community cornerstone.

Looking to the Future

As we look ahead, Asian Garden Mall continues to adapt and evolve, meeting its visitors’ changing needs and preferences.

Its ability to blend cultural heritage with contemporary demands ensures its relevance and importance.

The mall remains a vital part of the Vietnamese-American narrative in the United States, symbolizing the community’s enduring spirit and its significant contributions to the cultural mosaic of America.

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