DC’s Chinatown neighborhood dates from the 1880s, though it has gone through a number of different forms and locations. The current iteration is along H and I Streets, between 5th and 8th Streets Northwest. Along with about 20 ethnic Asian restaurants and businesses, it is home to landmarks, festivals, and a variety of community activities that celebrate Chinese culture and history in the area.
For area residents as well as developers, the emphasis over the past few decades has been maintaining the character of the area while also experiencing explosive growth. Thus the area is a vibrant mix of the current and the traditional, of the Western and the Eastern, and of contemporary architecture and traditional Chinese architectural styles.
One of the challenges for residents of the Chinatown neighborhood has been keeping alive the cultural heritage of the area. The Chinatown Community Cultural Center has been pivotal in creating programs designed to encourage the preservation of the arts, education, language, and other aspects of traditional Chinese culture. They offer a variety of classes and programs throughout the year.
Each year the neighborhood celebrates Chinese New Year with a parade and festival featuring the traditional Chinese Dragon Dance as well as music, demonstrations, and firecracker lighting. In addition, traditional calligraphy classes, film screenings, poetry readings, art exhibits and more help to communicate both traditional and current artistic and cultural movements.
One of the most identifiable and iconic elements of DC’s Chinatown is the Friendship Archway. Dedicated in the mid-80s, the archway was designed by local architect Alfred Liu and is the largest single-span archway of its kind in the world. The gate is 60 feet high and has seven cantilevered roofs. It utilizes a tradition called Dougong, which puts together complex structures through interlocking brackets, thus utilizing no nail at all. It is a truly beautiful and impressive architectural achievement.
The traditional side of Chinatown continues to be a vibrant economic force in its own right due in large part to the number of well-established and well-regarded traditional Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood. Restaurants range from the very traditional, like Full Kee, to the ultra-modern like Ping Pong Dim Sum. One fun restaurant and karaoke bar, Wok and Roll, has a strange and fascinating history. The contemporary restaurant is housed in a building on the National Register of Historic Places due to its role as the meeting place for the Lincoln assassination co-conspirators.
Part of what makes Chinatown such an interesting place is the mix of modern and traditional, and this is due in part to the area’s proximity to Penn Quarter and the Capital One Arena. Thus alongside traditional restaurants and shops that are native to the area, some of the best modern restaurants, shopping, and activities in the area are within easy walking distance. DC landmarks like the Newseum are here, along with shopping at Gallery Place, sports at Capital One Arena, and some of the best restaurants in the area, including Jose Andres’ minibar, beloved Italian restaurant Fiola, and elegant Indian restaurant Rasika.
Real estate in the area tends to be primarily condos, and there are a range of layouts and prices, from the high $200s to north of $1 million. Many of the price points are in the mid-$500s, and there are a number of highly desirable buildings with units at this price. The robust rental market also does well here, and there are new co-living apartments in the area, making it even more affordable.
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