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Correction to This Article
In a June 24 Metro article, Linda Lee's affiliation with the Washington Convention Center was incorrectly reported. She is a member of the center's advisory board.
The District

Chinatown Loses A Fixture on H Street

The building that housed the China Doll for nearly 50 years, behind Chinatown's ornamental gateway, probably will be redeveloped as part of a mixed-use project along H Street, according to the family that owned it.
The building that housed the China Doll for nearly 50 years, behind Chinatown's ornamental gateway, probably will be redeveloped as part of a mixed-use project along H Street, according to the family that owned it. (Linda Davidson - The Washington Post)

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By Audrey Edwards
Special to the Washington Post
Saturday, June 24, 2006

The amber glow of the wall lamps still dimly light the China Doll Gourmet Restaurant. Its front door remains unlocked. But there is no lunch crowd having its regular fill of stir-fried Chinese broccoli and Cantonese-style shredded chicken chow mein.

"Sorry, we're closed," Emma Lee, the restaurant's general manager, calls out to a couple that strolls in.

After almost five decades, the restaurant in the District's Chinatown closed Sunday. The Lee family sold the building in the 600 block of H Street NW to a developer, and everyone plans to retire.

With the closing, Chinatown lost an institution, and the family lost a place that over the years has been practically a home to them. Twelve-hour days were routine.

"If I don't come to work, I don't see my family," said Yennie Lee, 53, the assistant general manager and the youngest of five siblings.

The Lee family had run the China Doll since 1969.

Davis Lee came to the United States from Canton, China, when he was 13 to be with his father and uncle in Gary, Ind. Lee served in the military and was stationed in Jacksonville, Fla., during World War II.

Later he ran a wholesale grocery business, selling bean sprouts, before buying the China Doll.

He and his wife, Tom Lin Lee, had four daughters and one son.

Over the years, the family developed broad and deep ties to the community. Linda Lee, 66, who married Davis Lee's son, Toon Lee, ran the former Hunan Chinatown restaurant in a building she owned across the street from the China Doll. She leased that building two years ago to a Sun Trust Bank branch.

The family had a home at the corner of Sixth and H streets NW, where the Wah Luck House, which houses mostly Chinese immigrants, now stands. Emma Lee helps senior citizens who live there, and Linda Lee is a board member for the Washington Convention Center.

"The community here have become family," said Yennie Lee. "People in the neighborhood call me mom, and I have 'adopted' the entire neighborhood."


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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