The Chinatown Arch

The Chinatown Arch has been under wraps the past few months, getting its 7,000 glazed tiles, 35,000 wooden pieces, 23-carat gold, and 272 painted dragons refurbished.

The wrappings have just come off, revealing an arch that looks like a newer version of the arch that has towered over 7th and H St. since 1986.

The arch, formally known as the Friendship Arch, was commissioned by Mayor Marion Barry along with a sister-city partnership of D.C. with Beijing, to promote D.C. as a site for international trade. The lettering says “Chinese District.”

The arch is a prominent landmark in the city, and has been the backdrop for so many different types of scenes and events, including:

Caps fans


Chinese New Year

Full moon


More about the arch

The building of the arch started in 1984. There were a number of objections about it representing only one of the two Chinas, and there were also plans, later abandoned, to build another arch two blocks away to represent Taiwan.

The architect for the arch was Alfred Liu, a D.C. architect born in China, whose firm is also in charge of the refurbishing. Sixteen artisans came from China to help with the construction, and the pagoda roofs were built in China and shipped here. An extensive refurbishing was done in 1993, when parts of the arch were failing. Some of the problem was because the visas for the artisans had been delayed while the arch was being built, causing the tiles to be set in mortar during a colder time of year which prevented them from setting correctly. Another refurbishing was done in 2009.

When the arch was built, there were not many Chinese immigrants still living in Chinatown, and there are fewer now, but it still remains a vibrant Chinese cultural center. D.C.’s Chinatown was not originally in this location – it was moved here in 1931 after the original location was taken over by the construction of Federal Triangle.

After Tiananmen Square, the D.C. government suspended the sister-city relationship with Beijing, and temporarily draped the arch in black cloth in mourning for the dead students.

All images ©Victoria Pickering

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