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In my last column, I took my readers on a little sightseeing through the building that once housed my family’s Imperial Dynasty and Chinese Pagoda restaurants, with emphasis on the whimsical ladies’ restrooms.

With Uncle Richard’s personal art collection removed from the premises, along with the plethora of tchotchkes that were seemingly on every spare bit of shelf space, the beauty of the bare bones of this building truly shines. Uncle Richard’s studies in Chinese mythology, philosophy, and feng shui are greatly exemplified in his design of the building that would become the beating heart of my clan in so many ways.

When asked about his designs during an interview he said, “A room is only a container for what is within. It should contain beauty, which is the great truth. Beauty conforms to the divine rhythms. They exist on three levels: Physical (can be perceived), metaphysical (shapeless, intangible, invisible, but active) and hyperphysical (the cause, the source of all things). Subject, verb and object. Thinker thinks things.

“The arched pagoda roof represents the gateway to heaven and is also very effective acoustical engineering. Arches and spirals represent the concept that there is no ending and no beginning. At the middle — metaphysical level is the action of electricity, the movement of air. People and food are at the physical world.

“I wanted there to be a hovering of Chinese culture,” Uncle Richard concluded. “Perhaps that is too strong a word. I wanted it to be in the air so that everyone would feel it.”

For this column’s tour, we are going to enter a dining room and stop to look up at the pagoda-like ceiling design Uncle Richard created for two of the dining rooms and the cocktail lounge. The down-curved ceiling was like a permanent canopy. The two sides of the ceiling were made like two archery bows, with the bow turned down. All reinforcing and stress bracing was on the topside, out of sight. The ceiling gently sloped on the sides toward a fourteen-foot center beam, representing the Chinese arches toward heaven.

A couple of months ago my friend, Dea Jensen joined me on a walk through the property. A set decorator by trade, she has an eye for detail and attention for design. Dea took some marvelous photographs of the ceiling that I am delighted to share with you to help this tour become more visual, more accessible, more real. For myself, I can’t help being swamped by deep feelings of gratitude and sometimes amazement for what was, by a still lingering sadness for what has been lost, and by the bright hope for what will become. I travel through as many emotional rhythms as those that sparked Uncle Richard’s design work. Through it all I cherish what he saw so clearly, what makes my heart, hum, what remains an architectural star — the beauty of the building’s bare bones.

We’re still harvesting beets from the garden. In my last column I made a beautiful pink dumpling dough by using beet juice. This week I’m sharing a recipe that showcases beets as the star of a dumpling filling. In art, in architecture, in life, in food, stars always shine.

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Arianne Wing is the co-author of “Noodles Through Escargots,” and co-owner of the L.T. Sue Co. Tea Room and Emporium, benefiting the restoration and preservation of China Alley. She may be reached at arianne@ltsue.com

 

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