Jasmine Ali, Madison Guare, Nicholas Kram Mendelsohn, Rachel Scalzo


Pedestrian traffic flows in and out of the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro Stop. The Verizon center, one of Chinatown’s main attractions sits between the two alternate exits. The overhang of the Verizon center at the top of the escalator to 7th and F street makes the spot a popular place for casual interaction among the rotating cast of men usually leaning against the wall. One or two of the men seldom ask the masses of passerby for spare change, while street performers come seeking the monetary rewards that come with the high traffic area. Just outside the overhang on sunny days, and nestled within it during inclement weather, the performers serenade Chinatown’s visitors upon their arrival. The artists always accept donations. The best groups garner transient audiences that congregate under the overhang; the same area the men have informally claimed. Panhandlers alike line the street side of Chinatown’s sidewalks, seemingly shooed away from the store fronts by the business owners.

Traffic bustles through the four lane streets which narrow to two when drivers park along the sides. The other Metro exit is at the intersection of 7th and H. The other metro exit rests beneath the overhang of the Gallery Place mall, just two blocks north of the first. The covered area is larger, and while a few regulars still line parts of the wall, the ownership of this exit feels more transitional. The combined footprint of the Gallery Place Mall and the Verizon center split the four square blocks bordered by F, H, 6th, and 7th.

Shows the brightly painted intersection of 7th and H St. NW, right by the Friendship Archway

The three blocks of H street between 6th and 9th constitute the Chinatown that the tourists seek. The Friendship Archway towers over the six lanes of H street, an imposing reminder of the space’s Chinese culture and history. The intersection of H and 7th has a vibrant diagonal Chinese themed crosswalk. The sidewalks are peppered with decorative chinese themed bricks, and lit sporadically by chinese lanterns in place of the usual city streetlight. These three blocks are mostly commercial save for the Wah Luck House on the corner of 6th and H. On the four corners of the decorated intersection at H and 7th sit Starbucks, Fuddruckers, Walgreens, and the metro escalator sheltered by Gallery Place Mall. The Friendship gate is visible from inside each of the chain establishments, and all three are labeled in Chinese Characters just below their respective corporate logos. This intersection feels like it should be the ‘genesis’ of Chinatown, the further you are from it, the fewer indicators of Chinese Culture you see. The walk along H, toward Sixth or Ninth street is peppered with older storefronts. The split level row-houses have been turned into storefronts for various businesses, such as restaurants, a liquor store, and a souvenir shop. They open their doors to the red, brick, decorative sidewalks of Chinatown.

Image 2: Shows the zodiac animal signs painted on the crosswalks of the intersections along 7th St. and H St. NW

Chinatown hosts two groups it seems, the visitors and the regulars. The visitors come and go. They quickly pass by the groups of regulars atop the metro escalators. The visitors come for goods and services, on the weekends they are throngs of tourists and shoppers. They exit at Gallery Place to shop, see a movie, or stroll up and down the streets of a neighborhood with rich cultural heritage. Other visitors simply have yet to grasp the Metro map and overshot the Washington Monument. On the weekdays Chinatown’s restaurants bulge for happy hours, filled with young D.C. professionals who arrive on foot, still in professional attire left over from a day at work. The metro exits bustle only at rush hour on the weekdays with speed-walking commuters, intent on their destination, headphones on, and heads down. But at the end of those weeknights, these young professionals go home, most by metro, though some call Ubers.

The streets of Chinatown only host regulars at this time of night, and the closed storefronts facilitate a public space which is also silent, a silence that is completely foreign to daytime Chinatown. The regulars own shops in Chinatown, or live in the Wah Luck House, so they arrive early in the morning, before the commuters and sometimes before sunrise. The other regulars come from the homeless shelters nearby in which they sleep.They move leisurely up and down H street between the metro exits. They shake hands and speak to each other far more than they speak to the visitors. They talk amongst themselves and about one another or mutual friends, they are not reserved or quiet and they are not interested in the affairs of the visitors. They come in and out on the metro or the bus, leaving to run their own errands or go to work.

The Wah Luck House that is along H St. and 6th St. NW.

D.C.’s Chinatown is a daytime residence for the regulars, and a daily destination for the city’s professionals employed near by. The weekends are filled with shoppers, tourists, and museum goers. The Wah Luck House, on the corner of H and Sixth is home to the area’s remaining Chinese residents. They are occasionally out and about but certainly aren’t attune to the community of the regulars. The Chinese American residents of Wah-Luck occupy the practical space of Chinatown, and not the leisurely culture which consumes the place. They move to the metro, or to wait for the bus, and don’t stop to admire the popular Friendship Arch or listen to the street performers. The trappings of Chinatown which lure the tourists seem routine to the residents of Wah Luck House.

The sign outside of the German-American Heritage Museum. It also follows the local laws of having Chinese characters on the sign.

Half a block south of the Wah Luck House on Sixth Street sits the German-American Heritage Museum. The museum occupies what was formerly Hockemeyer Hall. The townhouse was constructed in 1888 and became home to John Hockemeyer, a fifteen-year-old German Immigrant who would serve in the Civil War and later run a successful grocery store. The building was almost torn down in 2004, but the D.C. Preservation league filed for its landmark status. The German American Heritage Foundation, which owns and operates the museum today purchased the building in 2008, restored it and installed the permanent exhibit of influential German-American citizens. The Museum is a reminder of the transient nature of past resident immigrant populations in today’s Chinatown. Before it was Chinatown, the neighborhood was home to D.C.’s German population. In the 1800s the land resembled a suburb more than the commercial city center it is today.