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History of Washington DC - Chinatown

HISTORY

Chinatown in Washington, D.C. is a small, historic neighborhood east of downtown, in the present day consisting of a handful of ethnic Chinese and other Asian restaurants and small businesses along H and I Streets between 5th and 8th Streets, Northwest. The boundaries of Chinatown are Eastside to 5th Street, Southside to G Street, Westside to 8th street and Northside to Massachusetts Avenue. It is known for its annual Chinese New Year festival and parade and the Friendship Arch, a Chinese gate built over H Street at 7th Street; however, its most prominent landmarks are the Verizon Center, a sports and entertainment arena and the Old Patent Office Building, which houses two of the Smithsonian Museums. The neighborhood is served by the Gallery Place-Chinatown station of the Washington Metro.

 

The Chinatown area was formerly populated by German immigrants; it is coincidentally the modern home of the Washington branch of the Goethe-Institut. Chinese immigrants began to populate the area in the 1930s, having been displaced from Washington's original Chinatown along Pennsylvania Avenue by the development of the Federal Triangle government office complex. The newcomers marked it with decorative metal latticework and railings as well as Chinese signage. At its peak, Chinatown was deemed to extend from G Street north to Massachusetts Avenue and from 9th Street east to 5th Street.

 

Like other Washington neighborhoods, Chinatown declined sharply after the 1968 riots. Ethnic Chinese residents, as well as many others, left for suburban areas, spurred further by the city's rising crime and taxes, and deteriorating business climate. When the Washington Metro station serving the neighborhood opened in 1976, it was named simply "Gallery Place," ignoring Chinatown altogether.

 

In 1986, the city dedicated the Friendship Archway, a traditional Chinese gate designed by local architect Alfred H. Liu. The colorful, $1 million work of public art includes 7 roofs up to 60 feet high, 7000 tiles, and 272 painted dragons in the style of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Erected to celebrate friendship with Washington's sister city of Beijing, it was hoped the arch would reinforce the neighborhood's Chinese character.

 

Also in 1986, the Metro station was given its present name, Gallery Place-Chinatown. By then, however, most of the neighborhood's eponymous population had already moved to the suburbs. A peripheral section was torn down for the construction of the old Washington Convention Center at 900 9th St NW; the city constructed the Wah Luck House at 6th and H Streets, NW, to accommodate the displaced residents in 1982. The core of the neighborhood was demolished to make way for the MCI Center which was completed in 1997. In 2006 the MCI Center became the Verizon Center. Since then, high real estate costs and other effects of gentrification have priced family businesses out of the area. Gentrification has produced a strange phenomenon in DC's Chinatown. Local laws dictate that new businesses in the Chinatown area must have signs in English and Chinese, to preserve local character. Ironically most of the new businesses are national chain restaurants and stores, so that Starbucks, Hooters, and Legal Sea Foods, among others, hang their names in Chinese outside their stores.

Business

In 2004, Chinatown went under a $200 million renovation, transforming the area into a bustling scene for nightlife, shopping and entertainment, with high-end restaurants, a deluxe movie theater and exclusive department stores. Chinatown's most prominent businesses are the approximately 20 Chinese and Asian restaurants, almost all of which are owned by Asian American families. Among the most famous is Tony Cheng's Restaurant, a cultural landmark and the oldest in Chinatown. The neighborhood is also home to a handful of general stores, and numerous Chinese American cultural and religious charities. Recently, Chinatown has also become an independent transportation hub. 

 



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