There was little choice: Chinatown, no matter how fancy its arch, has never really been more than Chinablock. Construction of the Federal Triangle office buildings in the 1930s meant the Chinese population living around Pennsylvania Avenue east of 4 1/2 Street NW had to move. A community association found enough land near 6th and H streets NW to fit most of the businesses hoping to relocate, creating in the process an epicenter for the tiny ethnic community. So things stayed until 1985, when then-Mayor Marion Barry visited Beijing and came back with the idea of a “Friendship Archway” to celebrate the new sister-city relationship between the two capitals.
It might have been different. The archway idea drew scorn from Chinese residents who had fled the Communist regime, so the District initially agreed let them build their own, pro-Taiwan arch. Alas, that second arch never got built.