A team of artists and engineers will arrive here from Peking this fall to help the District government erect what is being trumpeted as the largest and most ornate Chinatown archway in North America.
The $1 million royal gold archway, decorated with seven pagoda-style roofs, fierce dragons and Chi- nese characters, will span H Street NW, just east of Seventh Street, and serve as a gateway to the city's faded Chinatown.
"We now have the green light to move on this project and we could not have chosen a more graphic and highly visible symbol of our sister city relationship with Peking," Curtis R. McClinton Jr., the deputy mayor for economic development, said yesterday in discussing the plans.
Dr. Toon Lee, chairman of the Chinatown Steering Committee, said his group supports the project but added that some members of the Chinatown community are bitterly opposed to accepting a gift from Communist China.
"But it will be one of the important landmarks in Chinatown, regardless of anyone's opinion," Toon said.
The idea for the archway was broached during Mayor Marion Barry's trip to China last year. McClinton closed the deal and reviewed final plans during a follow-up trip to Peking last month, when he met with representatives of Pe- king's Ancient Architectural Construction Corp.
The archway, to be built within sight of the Washington Convention Center, will span more than 63 feet and reach 47 feet at its highest point. Alfred Liu, a Washington architect commissioned to work with the Chinese to design the archway, said the exotic design is representative of the royal architecture of the Ming Dynasty.
"This is the highest order in terms of design," Liu said.
The prefabricated roof component, with special glazed tile and design detail, will be prepared in Peking and shipped to Washington in August, about the time the D.C. Department of Public Works will begin construction of the archway columns and framework.
The team of Chinese craftsmen and engineers will arrive in September to assemble and erect the archway components. The project is scheduled to be completed in November.
The cost of the project will be split between the D.C. Office of Business and Economic Development and the Chinese government, according to Fred L. Greene, the city's planning director.
"It's very exciting and the location is very important, too, close to Metro, a block or so from the Convention Center, and near the proposed Far East Trade Center," Greene said.
Barry said construction of the archway would be another step in efforts to retain and enhance Chinatown.
"It also will be a visible symbol of the cultural and economic exchanges which will be part of our sister city agreement and part of my program to make the District a visible world class city," Barry said.
According to city officials, the archway is intended to enhance the Chinese design character of Chinatown and attract more city and area residents. Liu said he was unaware of any strong objection to the exceedingly ornate design, although the project has received little attention outside of Chinatown.
In 1982, the National Capital Planning Commission killed a proposal to build an 11-story, $4 million memorial arch in honor of the U.S. Navy at Pennsylvania Avenue and Eighth Street NW in part because it was considered too grandiose for the area. The 112-foot arch would have been the largest classical arch in the country.
The planned archway for Washington's Chinatown would tower over one in Philadelphia that is considered to be the largest archway in the United States with an ancient ornate Chinese design, according to Liu.
"It will have lights and at night it will be fantastic," he said. " . . . It will be a big attraction." CAPTION: Picture, Rendering depicts $1 million archway planned to span H Street NW, just east of Seventh Street, at Chinatown entrance. By AEPA Architects and Engineers; Map, PROPOSED ARCHWAY. By Dave Cook -- The Washington Post