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America, May 23, 2005

Bye Bye Chinatown

Gone to the suburb of Rockville I bet

is that Chinese?
Chinese Starbucks
the big arch
All that's left
Washington DC once had a thriving Chinatown, not NYC's mind you, but still respectable. It was a decent Chinablock with maybe five or six square blocks of very Chinese restaurants, stores, and activity centers, so Chinese the police even had a Asian outreach office there, complete with Chinese officers.

Then Abe Polin built the MCI Center in the midst of Chinatown and the end came swift. With hordes of suburbanites headed to the Center's shows, DC's Chinatown was over-run by folks expecting General Tao's Chicken, something you'd never find in a real Chinese restaurant.

Soon Douglas Jamal started buying property and leasing it to the homogenized, chain dependent desires of the suburbanites, and the end was near. Starbucks is on one corner, and while that can kinda be excused, Fudruckers on the other corner cannot. Add in Legal Sea Foods, and horror of horrors! Hooters, and Chinatown was dying fast.

Oh, they tried to keep the spirit, by keeping the huge Chinese arch across H street and making all the signage in Chinese & English, but the crowds down there now are only token in their Asian-ness.

And there will be one less patron too, me, as I found out today that my favorite Chinese grocery, Da Hua Market, where I've bought my sushi rice and Asian sauces for the last four years is no longer. Mr. Jamal bought it too and is now remodeling it for the next Chinatown sensation. Hazard a guess what it might be? How 'bout a museum on what was.

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It wasn't the MCI Center that killed DC's Chinatown. It was urban blight - the flight by the Chinese/ Asians to the 'burbs (ie. Silver Spring, MD or Falls Church, VA) began way before Abe brought in MCI Center. Factors include:

1) 1st/2nd generation Asians fulfilled their immigrant parents' dream of getting better education, jobs and thus better quality of life in the 'burbs.

2) DC nor Chinatown residents weren't investing in the Chinatown area = decaying streets and bldgs. With the advent of the metro back in the mid-70's (yeh when you were diapers), the uprooted sewer lines and crumbling pavements didn't make for a welcoming place for tourists.

3) Unfortunately, the community was so small that it didn't have a voice (or the votes) to protect the little bit of Chinatown history, 'cept for the token Dragon archway.

If there is any solace for the Chinese, I hope they damn well got a pretty penny for the goldmine they had been sitting on.

I am in total agreement that the area's become Disneyland in the Nation's Capital. Chintzy at most. Regardless, good or bad, it's progress.

You're right My 2 Cents, Chinatown existed only as a way-station for new immigrants, a sanctuary for Chinese to live before they got the cash flow to move out into the 'burbs. A move they could only make after the Alien & Sedition Act was fully repealed during the 1960's due to the civil rights campaigns aimed more at allowing blacks freedom in property ownership.

And with the repeal of that Act, anyone in Chinatown who cold move, did. Now we have a Koreatown in Annanadale and a Chinatown in Rockville for new immigrants. Replacing Chinatown in DC for ethnic enclaves is 'Little Ethiopia' around 12th & U Streets NW.

Oh and the Da Hua Market sold for $7.5 million. Nice.

It's now called Chetheslington.
Not to be confused with Shirazlington over the bridge there in the Commonwealth.

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