The Friendship Arch
10th and Arch St.
Philadelphia’s Chinatown is home to many fabulous cuisines. It also houses an important landmark in the history of the United States. The Friendship Arch at the intersection of 10th and Arch Street is the first gate to be built by authentic Chinese artisans in the country.
The Arch is four stories high and was initially produced in Tianjin, Chinatown’s sister city, in 1982. Tianjin’s artisans completed construction of the gate in Philadelphia two years later. The multi-colored gate is decorated with fire-breathing dragons, Oriental lettering, and other images reflecting Chinese imperial construction from as early as the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The gate is a significant contribution to Chinatown’s community and Philadelphia. So when it began to deteriorate over time, Tianjin’s artisans were commissioned in 2008 to repaint it by using traditional methods and materials, one of which included using pig’s blood to make red paint.
The Arch is also emblematic of Chinatown’s community and represented togetherness and determination during hard times, like the Save Chinatown Movement from 1971-1977. The proposal to construct the Vine Street Expressway threatened vital Chinatown establishments, such as the Holy Redeemer Church and School. The loss of the Church and School would mean losing a recreational center and community hall that hosted events from basketball games and community meetings to weddings and wakes. This adversity brought members of the community to band together and fight for their homes, schools, jobs, and society. They formed the Committee for the Preservation and Advancement of the Chinatown Community, the predecessor to the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation. The Committee led the fight to keep important structures in Chinatown from being demolished. The movement brought together people from different generational, religious, educational, and geographical boundaries. Many actions were taken to make their voices heard, and success was achieved when the Vine Street Expressway was scaled down and redesigned so it would not harm as many of Chinatown’s structures. As a result, Chinatown has put down deeper and wider roots in its long fight for survival.
After this plight, the gate remains representative of cultural exchange and friendship, not just between Philadelphia’s Chinatown and Tianjin, but also between Chinatown and Philadelphia itself. It continues to serve as an important cultural gateway for Chinese values, as well as an important marker for Asian American progression within the history of Philadelphia.