Then and Now by the House History Man – Yenching Palace

Then and Now by the House History Man is a new series by Paul K. Williams. Paul has been researching house histories in DC since 1995, having completed more than 1,500 to date. Read Paul’s previous post here.

The Yenching Palace was once located at 3524 Connecticut Avenue, NW and had been a fixture in the neighborhood since the 1950s. Its backward “Y” on the popular neon sign confused many a passerby.

It was the covert meeting place between ABC newsman John Scali and Aleksander Fomin of the Soviet Union during the 1962 Cuban missile crises, emissaries representing President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

The restaurant was built as two separate buildings in 1925 and 1928, which merged in 1945 to form the Seafare Restaurant, seen here on a 1950s era postcard (author).

Yenching Palace was opened in 1955 by Van Lung, the son of Chinese warlord Lung Yun. Lung died in 1991, and the restaurant was purchased by his nephew, Larry Lung. Over the years, celebrities, musicians, and politicians dined at the popular eatery. Just a few names included Mick Jagger, Henry Kissinger, Ann Landers, Jason Robards, Art Garfunkel, Alexander Haig, Lesley Stahl, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

The restaurant was also the site of a press conference in the 1970s, when the arrival of the two giant pandas marked a new relationship with China. Lung closed the restaurant – to the dismay of many regulars – in 2007 when he leased the building to a Walgreens –the first Walgreens to locate in Washington, in fact. The company recreated the façade to its 1945 appearance.

Yenching Palace pictures by the author.

21 Comment

  • I love these posts. Please keep them coming.

  • Agreed. These posts are great. Also, as disappointing as it is that this great building is now home to a chain store, I give Walgreens props for maintaining and appreciating the unique features of the building. I wish more companies would do the same.

    • ah

      +1. Actually looks better without the Christmas lights over the canopy.

    • Agreed – both with the fact that the post is fantastic and with the fact that Walgreens seems to have done a great job restoring the original look of the building. At least it isn’t another generic box.

  • I recall the interior being really “Glengarry Glen Ross;” dark wood, dramatic lighting, tiki drinks, puu puu platters with tiny hibachis, a trompe l’oeil ceiling like Tom Sarris’ Orleans House. The food was totally forgettable, but I still remember that interior.

    • “Totally forgettable” is one description – I never ate there, but that’s because I heard it referred to as “Retching Palace” one too many times.

    • saf

      Oh, c’mon. In the 80s, this place made really good dumplings. Actually, most of their food was pretty good at that point.

      And I love tiki drinks.

      • Agree. I had some perfectly acceptable – but a ton of fun – meals here in the same time period. I was sad to see this place shut down, although clearly it was past it’s expiration date.

        I’ll be sharing this link with quite a few people who shared some great times there. Thanks for the post.

    • I remember there being a little built-in wooden phone booth from another era over in the corner, and the flaming volcano drinks that came with long straws.

  • Wasn’t the first Walgreen’s in DC the one down at 22nd and N?

  • The Walgreens in West End opened early 2008, this one opened summer of 2009.

    • Thanks for the clarification: I should have said the first Walgreens to commit to locate in DC…I think this one took a lot longer to get through the historic preservation process.

  • How many pharmacies do we need in this city? It is interesting to see how many new pharmacies have opened pretty much everywhere. They are the starbucks of this decade. Within 4 blocks of where I am right now, I can hit two different CVS’ a walgreens and a rite aid.

    • The reason there are so many pharamcies is becuase the central business district seems to lack newstands/convience stores. The CVS seems to fill those gaps.

      • Also all the cranky old people waiting around to die. They just can’t get enough drugs. Or complain enough about the price of drugs, the weather, and whether this is a boil or a gummy bear.

        • Or telling stories about taking the ferry to Shelbyville, with an onion tied to their belts.

          I still miss People’s Drug stores.

  • When Walgreens went in, a little bit of DC died…

  • Does anyone know if that Yenching Palace sign was saved? That place was definitely a time capsule inside.

  • These Walgreen/CVS/Rite Aids are like zits on the architectural landscape. How many more of them do we need? It’s also funny the way they close themselves off from the street and kill the street life when they take over such a huge stretch, like the Rite Aid on Florida Avenue at Connecticut. It’s odd/ironic/funny that so many of them like paper over the windows with photos of street life in the “olden days” before CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens.

  • i so miss this place… used to go there and order food all the time. was extremely upset when they closed.

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