“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Chinatown in Washington, District of Columbia — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)


Civil War to Civil Rights


—Downtown Heritage Trail —

Chinatown Marker image. Click for full size.
By Richard E. Miller, September 20, 2008
1. Chinatown Marker
Inscription. dragons to bring rain, prosperity and friendship
More than 280 dragons, crowned by 700 glazed tiles, look down from the Chinatown Friendship Archway before you. Symbols of the spirits that bring rain and prosperity in China, these painted and carved dragons are fitted together like a giant jigsaw puzzle in the ancient Chinese building tradition of "gong" balancing. Seven roofs of weighing nine tons each are cantilevered, with no nails almost 50 feet above the street.

This is the largest single-span Chinese archway in the world, designed by Chinese-born Washington architect Alfred Liu and erected in 1986. A joint project of the governments of Washington, D.C., and and its sister city, Beijing, it marks the entrance to Washington's Chinatown in a statement of international friendship. Chinese and American craftsmen worked side by side to construct it.

The Chinese community in Washington dates back to the 1880s, when the first immigrants settled along Pennsylvania Avenue between Third and Sixth Streets. Forced out by construction of the Federal Triangle in the 1930s, the community relocated here with the help of the On Leong Chinese Merchants Association into homes once occupied by an earlier German and Jewish immigrant population. Some of the city's oldest pre-Civil War buildings, with flat roofs
Chinatown Marker image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, September 24, 2016
2. Chinatown Marker
The Friendship Archway can be seen in the distance.
and sloped roofs, can still be seen beneath the neighborhood's colorful Chinese facades.

While many Chinese have left the area for newer homes in the city and suburbs, the community is dedicated to preserving a slice of Chinese culture downtown. Calvary Baptist Church on Eighth and H, the first to create a Chinese Sunday School here, is still involved with the community, and St. Mary's Catholic Church near Fifth and H, has regular Masses in Cantonese. Chineses symbols and signs preserve the spirit of this special place and the annual Chinese New Year is celebrated with a dragon parade and firecrackers to increasingly large crowds from the metropolitan area.
Erected 2008 by Cultural Tourism D.C. (Marker Number e.6.)
Marker series. This marker is included in the Civil War to Civil Rights marker series.
Location. 38° 53.978′ N, 77° 1.321′ W. Marker is in Chinatown, District of Columbia, in Washington. Marker is on 7th Street, NW just south of H Street, NW, on the right when traveling south. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Washington DC 20001, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Friendship Archway (within shouting distance of this marker); The Northern Baptist Convention
Friendship Archway image. Click for full size.
By Richard E. Miller, July 14, 2008
3. Friendship Archway
H Street, NW, around the corner from marker.
(within shouting distance of this marker); Mary Surratt's Boarding House (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line); "Surratt Boarding House" (about 500 feet away); The Daguerre Monument (about 700 feet away); a different marker also named The Daguerre Monument (about 700 feet away); Patent Office Building (approx. 0.2 miles away); Mary Church Terrell (approx. 0.2 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Chinatown.
More about this marker. In the upper right of the marker, below the picture of Abraham Lincoln, is a picture of the On Leong Chinese Merchants Association building. It is captioned: "Because of restrictive U.S. immigration laws, Washington's original Chinese community was all male. The men formed strong organizations such as the On Leong Chinese Merchants Association, for mutual aid and companionship. The association was housed for many years in this building at 518 Eighth Street, now a Chinese restaurant."

The large picture in the center is identified as, "The community celebrates Chinese New Year."

In the lower
7th Street, early 1900s image. Click for full size.
Historical Society of Washington D.C, circa 1900
4. 7th Street, early 1900s
The commercial buildings pictured are still standing across the street from marker, amidst new development north of the Verizon Center.
left are two pictures of the Calvary Baptist Church. They share the following caption, "Calvary Baptist Church nearby at Eighth and H Streets, as photographed by Matthew Brady just after the Civil War, started the first Chinese Sunday School. Below right, its alter is decorated for a national celebration."

Drawings on the bottom right indicate that, "Behind the Chinese decorations in this neighborhood can be found the 19th-century building styles of an earlier residential community."
Federal Style-Early Nineteenth Century,
Italianate Style-Mid Nineteenth Century, and
Queen Anne Style-Late Nineteenth Century.
Related marker. Click here for another marker that is related to this marker. To better understand the relationship, study each marker in the order shown.
Also see . . .  Chinatown, Washington, D.C. (Submitted on October 18, 2008, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland.)
Additional keywords. Chinese-Americans
Categories. 20th CenturyAsian AmericansChurches, Etc.Fraternal or Sororal OrganizationsNotable PlacesSettlements & Settlers
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. This page has been viewed 2,265 times since then and 43 times this year. Last updated on , by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. Photos:   1. submitted on , by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland.   2. submitted on , by J. Makali Bruton of Querétaro, Mexico.   3, 4. submitted on , by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. • Kevin W. was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on January 17, 2017.
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