Limited-equity housing cooperative built to house Manhattans Chinatown community
Allan Eng-Achson (aka Gee Ock Lum) was born in Fook On Village, in Toishan, one of the districts in Kwangtung Province. His father Eng Yu Born (aka Gee Chung), a golden mountain visitor returned from East Orange, New Jersey to bring his son to the U.S. In the summer of 1928 both Gee Ock Lum and his father Gee Chung entered Seattle, Washington on the S.S McKinley.
Gee Chung, owned and operated a Chinese hand laundry. Gee Ock Lum arrived at his new home and found himself sleeping on a wooden plank stretched across two wooden crates in the back of his father’s hand laundry on 6 Oak St. in East Orange. After serving as a technical sergeant in the 1st Armored Division during World War 2, Allan was naturalized. He finally was able to take on his true identity, Allan Eng-Achson.
By the late 1950’s Allan was a pioneering figure in New York City’s Chinatown. He was the first real estate broker and property manager in the community. Allan managed buildings where elderly people were living in dark, dingy tenements. To Allan these heartbreaking images were the seeds of a dream sown in Allan’s heart. His dream germinated and continued to grow over the years. This vision would influence every part of Chinatown. Allan set himself on a self-proclaimed “quest for humaneness."
In the 1960’s there was an outcry for affordable housing and quality of life in this blighted-area.There was a need for residential and commercial rehabilitation and new construction in this neglected, under utilized area as well as to improve appearance and economic viability. There was an exodus from Chinatown into the suburbs, which was a burden for those who worked long hours in Chinatown and had to commute home.
I consider my father a pivotal figure in Chinatown history. Allan spent a lifetime of servicing the housing needs of Chinatown and the Lower East Side that he loved.
Allan, a visionary thinker and doer along with two other pioneering men, set their sights on creating a special building on that triangular piece of land at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge, with the vision to improve and transform the landscape of Chinatown. As a result, The Association for Chinatown Housing was formed. These men created a building that would breathe life back into Chinatown.
From 1965 – 1978 Allan served as a real estate consultant for this Mitchell-Lama housing project in New York City’s Chinatown. In 1973 Allan was employed by Sulzberger-Rolfe, Inc. the sales, rental and managing agents. He managed their office at 32 East Broadway for the sale of cooperative apartments. He had a staff of four others who interviewed and screened applicants to pre-qualify for occupancy in this housing project.
After this 762 apartment Mitchell-Lama project was erected, Allan became its first manager. His responsibilities consisted of rent collection, oversight of the physical maintenance of the building, security, hiring staff, and all administrative aspects in operating the complex. However, Allan’s greatest contribution was naming it Confucius Plaza.
Allan had the foresight and vision to see Chinatown teeming with people. He dreamed of a utopia where senior citizens would not have to worry about poor living conditions and where everyone would live in harmony with each other.
Allan’s hope for the future of Chinatown was to have a body of principles to guide the residents of Chinatown in good conduct with family, neighbors and society at large. Allan stood on the shoulders of Confucius and Mencius reminding generations to come that they have a responsibility to live up to the moral teachings of this great philosopher. Not only did Allan remind us of this, he modeled it in his daily contact with the residents and everyone he came in contact with. “Jen” is the nucleus of Confucius’ teachings. Jen may be summed up as the social virtues that help maintain social harmony: altruism, benevolence, charity, dignity, diligence, goodness, loving kindness, magnanimity, sincerity, and respectfulness. Anyone who knew Allan experienced these virtues. His ideals for Confucius Plaza and Chinatown reflected his inner character. He modeled these values as well the values from his personal Christian faith.
Chinatown enjoys the fruits of Allan’s vision and community service. Allan’s gift to Chinatown was Confucius Plaza. It was the right dream at the right time. Every generation needs to have a place that they can see and not just read about. Confucius Plaza is that tangible reminder.
Fifty years later as an adult instead of seeing homeless individuals on Skid Row/Bowery Street, I see a vibrant and thriving community. Allan’s vision of a clean, safe, affordable and dignified place for seniors warmed his heart and continues to warm the hearts of all who have been touched by Confucius Plaza.