The last time I was in was in August 2008. The Chinatown shop and gallery made a big impression, and recently I found myself drawn to the place again as my daughter, Madeleine, was taking an art class called Tiny Universe. Some of the super-small things the kids created made me think of the historic old shop that specializes in miniatures, though full-scale small things are for sale, too.
I was also in a mood to do some local traveling--micro travel, you could call it-- and Chinatown feels far away, though in fact the residential sections of Chinatown overlap both Elysian Park and the south and eastern edges of Echo Park, in an area some of my friends call “the forgotten annex” of EP. In Fong’s there is also an overlap with Echo Park cultural history, as the shop features in Leo Politi children’s book Mr. Fong’s Toy Shop.
Politi, of course, is one of the most famous residents of Echo Park, a children’s book author and illustrator for whom Politi Square at Sunset Boulevard and Echo Park Avenue is named. Mr. Fong’s Toy Shop was published in 1978 by Scribner. Its author/artist is remembered not only for the loveliness of his children’s books but as a person who linked cultures. He published in English and Spanish, and he wrote about places in the area that are geographically close and culturally sometimes distant. To Politi, who died in 1996, Olvera Street, Chinatown, Echo Park and Bunker Hill all were part of the neighborhood.
It should be noted that Fong’s never was specifically a toy shop, though it did carry some toys. Its focus on miniatures no doubt hews to the centuries-old tradition in Chinese art of creating miniature landscapes.
So I went to Chung King Road on a weekday morning, and was disappointed to find Fong’s closed. A small sign said that it’s open only weekends or by appointment. The shop gates were drawn, so I had to do with peering through them: a tray of thirty or so tiny cakes no wider than a nickel; figurines of tiny men and women; lamps and other furniture that were less than an inch high; miniature animals; miniature books. It was quite a display, even if I couldn’t go in.
Chung King Road was quiet. A couple of men in hospital scrubs were taking a break at an outdoor table. A deliveryman wheeled a dolly loaded with boxes. In an art gallery, one of the only places open at 10:30 a.m., some patrons browsed paintings.
I walked back around to Hill Street and got in my car. Then I drove the surprisingly short distance back to Echo Park, completing a journey in miniature.