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. 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. Other prominent landmarks include 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. According to the plaque next to the arch, it is the largest such archway in the world.
Also in 1986, the Metro station was given its present name, Gallery Place-Chinatown. By then, however, most of the neighborhood's eponymous Chinese 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 (renamed Verizon Center in 2006). Since then, high real estate costs and other effects of gentrification have priced some family businesses out of the area, while others have thrived by raising prices.
In 2006, 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. 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, CVS and Legal Sea Foods, among others, hang their names in Chinese outside their 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 are Szechuan Gallery, Burma, Eat First, Full Kee, and Tony Cheng's. One of the restaurants, Wok & Roll, occupies what was once Mary Surratt's boarding house — the meeting place for John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators in Abraham Lincoln's assassination.
The neighborhood is also home to a Chinese video store, a handful of general stores, and numerous Chinese-American cultural and religious charities. Recently, Chinatown has also become an independent transportation hub. Several independent, immigrant-owned Chinatown bus lines run from DC to the Chinatowns in Philadelphia, New York, and even Boston. They include Apex Bus, Today's Bus, New Century Travel, Dragon Coach, Washington Deluxe, and Vamoose Bus. Prices are generally set at just under Greyhound Bus.
Chinatown's "Friendship Archway", as seen looking west on H St.
Looking north up 7th St. The buildings on the west side of the street sport stylized Chinese characters on hanging banners—the only remaining signs of the original character of this now fully gentrified corridor.
Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Year of the SNAKE will be held on Sunday, February 10th, 2013 from 1 to 4 p.m. in Chinatown, DC