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Chinatown-Gallery Place Metro Stop - Red, Yellow & Green Lines - 630 H St., N.W., Washinton, DC 20001
Gallery Pl-Chinatown Upper Level January 28, 2010.jpg

Chinatown in Washington, D.C., is a small, historic neighborhood east of downtown consisting of about 20 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 nearby prominent landmarks include theVerizon 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.

History

Chinatown's "Friendship Archway", as seen looking west on H Street, NW

The Chinatown area was once home to many German immigrants; it is also the location of the Washington branch of the Goethe-Institut. Chinese immigrants began to move into 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 extended from G Street north to Massachusetts Avenue, and from 9th Street east to 5th Street.

Chinatown had fallen into disrepair 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. The Gallery Place Washington Metro station serving the neighborhood opened in 1976.

In 1986, the city dedicated the Friendship Archway, a traditional Chinese gate designed by local architect Alfred H. Liu. The colorful, US$1 million work of public art includes seven 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 single-span archway in the world.

In 1986, the Metro station was given its present name: Gallery Place-Chinatown. The city constructed the Wah Luck House apartments at 6th and H Streets, NW, to accommodate the displaced residents in 1982. Designed by architect Alfred Liu, the apartment building introduced modern Chinese design motifs due to the red-paneled balconies. The MCI Center was completed in 1997 (renamed Verizon Center in 2006). After the construction of the Verizon Center, Asian Week said in 2000 that the neighborhood "barely" remains.

Map of Washington, D.C., with Chinatown highlighted in red

Businesses Along with the development of the Verizon Center, historic buildings, mainly along the west side of 7th Street, were renovated and tenanted, primarily with nationally-known brand shops and dining establishments. Within a short time, a significant mixed-use office-residential-retail development on the southeast corner of 7th and H streets commenced construction. These developments, which 

The 700 block of H Street, N.W., in Chinatown. Built in the late 19th-century for residential purposes, the commercial buildings are designated as contributing properties to the Downtown Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.

included restaurants, shops, a cinema, and a bowling alley, together with the Verizon Center, transformed the area into a bustling scene for nightlife, shopping, and entertainment. An anomoly is that most of the businesses are no longer representative of Chinatown, yet due to a city requirement to post all identifying signage in Chinese characters even national chains -- Starbucks, Hooters, Ruby Tuesdays, Ann Taylor, Urban Outfitters, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Legal Sea Foods -- hang their names in Chinese outside their stores. Chinatown has become home to many high-growth technology companies, such as Blackboard, Blue State Digital, and The Knowland Group.

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 well-known are 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. Another is located in a house once owned by the On Leong Chinese Merchants Association, which was among the first Chinese organizations to move into the neighborhood; today the structure is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The neighborhood is home to a Chinese video store, a handful of general stores, and numerous Chinese-American cultural and religious charities. Recently, Chinatown has become an independent intercity transportation hub. Several independent, immigrant-owned Chinatown bus lines run from DC to the Chinatowns in Philadelphia, New York, and even Boston. They include MVP Bus and New Century Travel. Prices are generally set at just under Greyhound Bus fares.

Station layout

Like other downtown transfer stations, Gallery Place has a two-level configuration. However, unlike Metro Center and L'Enfant Plaza, where the platforms cross centrally, the Green and Yellow Line platforms are located near the east end of the station, resulting in an off-balance layout. This is a result of the Green and Yellow Lines' location below 7th Street NW, while the Red Line must bend towards the southeast in order to reach Judiciary Square and Union Station.

Plans to add a pedestrian tunnel connecting Gallery Place with Metro Center have long been in the works. The "Gallery Place/Chinatown - Metro Center Pedestrian Passageway Tunnel Study" was completed in July 2005.

Notable places nearby

  • Calvary Baptist Church
  • Ford's Theater
  • International Spy Museum
  • J. Edgar Hoover Building (headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation)
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library (main branch of the DC Public Library)
  • National Building Museum
  • National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • Verizon Center (home of the Washington Wizards, Washington Capitals, Washington Mystics, and Georgetown Hoyas)
  • Washington Convention Center
  • Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company