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.