This presentation was prepared several years ago after the renovations. It documents both the market's history as well as the renovation process.

Eastern Market is one of the few historic public market buildings left in Washington, DC and the only one that has retained its original function. It is the last of three public markets proposed in the 1791 L’Enfant Plan. The original building, now known as the South Hall, was designed by renowned local architect Adolf Cluss and built in 1873. The Center and North halls were added in 1908. The Market was designated a D.C. Historic Landmark in 1964 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Today it is home to a variety of indoor merchants and outdoor vendors & farmers. The Market is, and will remain, primarily a fresh food market, as outlined by District legislation.

the market

History, Architecture and Community Significance


By: Monte Edwards, June 2009

Updated:  May 2019



Eastern Market is one of three public markets proposed in the L’Enfant Plan.  It was established by order of President Thomas Jefferson in 1805, and was originally located near the Navy Yard at 6th Street, between K and L Streets, S.E.  because that was then a population center.  But over time the population shifted to the north and with the urbanization of the District undertaken by Territorial Governor Alexander Shepherd (“Boss” Shepherd”), it was relocated to its present site in 1873, as a new building, designed by Adolf Cluss, which is now known as the South Hall.  The Center and North Halls, designed by Snowden Ashford, Inspector of Buildings of the District’s Office of Public Works, were added in 1908.  The Market was designated a D.C. Historic Landmark in 1964 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. The bronze plaque on the side of the South Hall portico entrance was dedicated by our Mayor Williams and the Mayor of Heillbronn Germany, Cluss’ birthplace, as part of a celebration in October of 2005 marking the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s proclamation establishing the Market and 100 years after the death of Adolf Cluss.


Cluss left Germany after the failure of the 1848 revolution, with two of his political associates, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.  During his early years in America, Cluss’ worked as a draftsman at the Navy Yard, where he ran a Communist League cell and financed a Communist newspaper. He became disillusioned with Communism and supported the early Republican Party. He is believed to have been the only person to have met both Karl Marx and President Ulysses S. Grant.  He became one of the most important, influential and prolific architects in Washington, D.C. Among the 80 buildings Cluss built in the Nation’s Capital and environs were the Smithsonian Arts and Industries building on the Mall and two other public markets: the former Center Market (c. 1872), the nation’s largest, at Pennsylvania Avenue between 7th and 9th streets, N.W (now the site of the National Archives), and the Alexandria, Virginia market house and city hall (c. 1873), on Cameron Street, which continues in use as the Alexandria City Hall.


Cluss’s plan for our Market included a roof-truss system that permitted high, open ceilings, large windows for ample natural light, numerous doors for easy access and exit, roof ventilators for natural ventilation, and a cellar for cold storage: an innovative and functional public market design for its time.



With the advent of supermarkets Eastern Market lost business and its fate became uncertain. The North Hall was closed as a Market in 1929, and transferred to the adjacent Fire Station, current site of the Natatorium, to be used for storage.  Center Market was demolished in 1932, followed by the closing of the City’s remaining public markets.  By the 1950s, Eastern Market was the last remaining City Market and its South Hall became home for vendors who had worked throughout the City’s market system.  With Eastern Market threatened with closure, Charles Glasgow, Sr., who ran the fish stall at Eastern Market, suggested he assume management, and formed the Eastern Market Corporation that leased the South and Center Halls from the City beginning in 1954.  Currently, under the Eastern Market Legislation, the entire Market is now under unified management,  with Barry Margeson, an employee of the City serving as Market Manager.


During the mid-1960s, the Market was threatened not just with closure, but with the threat of demolition.  Jim Hodgeson, president of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society prevailed on the DC government to perform an economic study of the Market's viability, which showed the Market was economically viable and it was not torn down.  The Glasgow lease of the South and Center Halls contributed to the viability conclusion, but also, the Restoration Society was the only citizen group during this time that contributed to the continuation and advocated for the maintenance of the Market, resulting in the 1974 renovation.


Prior to 1931, the Farmers’ Line that had existed from the Market’s earliest days had to endure the vagaries of the weather when selling at the Market.  In 1931, a continuous shed was erected to shelter the Farmers.  In that time of depression-era City budgets, the original design was not adopted, but rather a less expensive simple, corrugated metal roof with a double row of columns was built, that was replaced with the present structure in 2004.  The Farmers who sold at the market decreased in number and by 1987, the northern portion of the Farmers’ Line had been assigned to Market 5 Gallery for crafts and flea market sales. The Eastern Market legislation re-established the Farmers’ Line as extending to North Carolina Avenue.


The transition to the Market that we know today began, in part with the reuse of the North Hall, as an art gallery, and the related recruitment of art-related vendors in the North Plaza outside North Hall.  The area now occupied by the Aquatic Center was a Fire Station, and in 1929 the North Hall had been transferred to the Fire Department to store fire equipment, and was later used by the DC Department of Transportation for storage. In acknowledgment of that use, the accent rail that runs around the room is painted fire-engine red.   The DC Commission on Arts and Humanities designated an arts facility for each Ward. The North Hall was designated as the arts facility for our ward.  In 1975 the North Hall was leased to John Harrod’s Market 5 Gallery and Kuumba Center for art exhibits, performances and special events.  Over time Market 5’s operations expanded to the North Plaza.  A Saturday Crafts Fair and Sunday Flea Market evolved.  That distinction between Saturday and Sunday use of the North Plaza has been incorporated in the Eastern Market legislation.  John Harrod’s contributions are recognized on a commemorative plaque next to the North Carolina entrance to the North Hall.


In 1974, Using federal grant money, the South Hall was partially restored, with primary focus on the exterior, and without attention to historic considerations.  The roof was replaced with new wooden decking and artificial slate. Deteriorated brick and stone work was repaired, but the brownstone was patched with colored mortar, rather than replaced.  Window glazing was replaced with plastic for security reasons.  Metal columns were installed to reinforce the deteriorated floor.


In the 1980s the Market, along with the rest of the District, again lost some its vitality and patronage.  In addition, day-to-day maintenance was neglected as were long-term needs.  The recent resurgence of the Market was triggered by the Eastern Market legislation that instituted a new framework for operation and management as well as planning of the renovation and restoration of the Market.  The current restoration was the overwhelming response by everyone to the devastating fine of 2007.  The residents of Capitol Hill regard the Market as the unofficial town center, and whenever the fate of the Market has been in jeopardy, protests, campaigns, and creative efforts by civic groups, customers, merchants, and the City have saved the day.



Between 1997 and 1999, our Ward 6 Councilmember, Sharon Ambrose, drafted and guided the enactment of the Eastern Market legislation that defined how the Market would be managed, regulated and improved.  It placed the Market under the jurisdiction of the District’s Office of Property Management (now the Department of General Services - DGS) required unified management of the Market and created the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) to advise OPM about the operation, management and capital improvements for the Market.  EMCAC represents the entire Eastern Market Community, consisting of representatives from Community Organizations, District of Columbia Elected Officials,  Vendors that operate at Eastern Market, Merchants and Professionals that do business on Capitol Hill, and an Independent Community Representative, each of whom is elected or appointed to represent the perspective of their respective organization or constituency.  By constituting EMCAC as an inclusive body that is representative of the full spectrum of the Eastern Market Community, EMCAC is able to formulate comments and recommendations that reflect the perspectives of the Eastern Market Community and thereby promote the success of Eastern Market.


The legislation designated the area around the Market, including the Aquatic Center Plaza, as the “Eastern Market Special Use Area.” in order to maintain the theme and character of Eastern Market, and to ensure that retailing on such public property, is consistent with the activities at Eastern Market. The Special Use Area now includes the 300 block of 7th Street and the reopened C Street, between 7th and 8th Streets.


 EMCAC initially recommended renovation and repairs to the Market to bring it up to current standards and code requirements.  A Scope of Work was developed and based on EMCAC’s recommendation, the architectural firm of Heery International was hired to perform an assessment.  The first capital improvement recommended by EMCAC was the replacement of the Farmers’ Line Shed that was accomplished in 2004.  In 2005, EMCAC reviewed the credentials of architectural firms to design the remaining improvements, and based on the EMCAC recommendation, Quinn Evans Architects was retained to design the required renovations and repairs.  Quinn Evans proposed a comprehensive repair and renovation, the cost of which was about double the $1.7 million that was available for the work.  EMCAC recommended a two- phase project, with the first phase costing all of the available $1.7 and a plan was implemented to prepare the drawings and justification to seek additional funds in the 2007 budget.  Quinn Evans proceeded to develop design drawings based on that.  A part of that first phase involved the necessary utility and infrastructure upgrades that needed to be coordinated with the proposed Streetscape project that the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) would accomplish.



Early in the morning of April 30, 2007, the Market burned.  At that time, Quinn Evans had completed their 95% design drawings for the $1.7 million repair and renovation and the additional renovations that would be part of a budget request to the City Council.  Immediately after the fire, Capitol Hill residents and others from across the District turned out to save the Market at a community meeting called by Mayor Adrian Fenty and Councilmember Tommy Wells.  The crowd overflowed into two large meeting rooms at what was then the Hine School (that has since been replaced by the Stanton/EastBanc Development).  At that meeting, the Mayor committed to build the temporary East Hall for the displaced merchants and rebuild and renovate the historic building as quickly as possible.


Because of the fire, OPM, Quinn Evans and EMCAC now focused on restoration of the Market, rather than the prior focus of repair/rehabilitation.  This change in focus recognized that the fire damage destroyed much of the 1974 rehabilitation work, and now EMCAC urged the City to focus on restoration of the more architecturally significant elements of the building: the 1873 Adolf Cluss design with the 1908 Snowden Ashford addition.  A month after the fire, Quinn Evans provided drawings to EMCAC to implement the design changes required by the fire and the more ambitious restoration design.  Based on Quinn Evans design and EMCAC’s recommendations, the City committed to invest $22 million to accomplish the restoration we see today.



The City committed to provide a temporary structure for the Merchants that became the East Hall but it would take some time to build it. On the day of the fire, the Capitol Hill Community Foundation established the Eastern Market Committee and began raising money for emergency expenses of the Merchants and Farmers, such as refrigerated trucks, display tables, scales and other equipment so they could operate until the East Hall could be constructed.  Through community contributions and fund raising events that took place throughout the Hill, over $450,000 was raised. When the Market was restored, every Merchant who was doing business in the South Hall before the fire returned.



The rehabilitation of 7th Street between North Carolina and Pennsylvania Avenues was approved by the City Council, the funds were dedicated, and were in the District’s Department of Transportation (DDOT) budget since 2002.  The Streetscape went through various scheduling and design changes and by the time of the fire, no work had been done, but the money was still there.  With the City’s commitment to build a temporary structure came the recognition that no money had been budgeted; however, the dedicated money for the Streetscape was just about the amount needed, so, DDOT, rather than OPM, was tasked with construction of the East Hall, using the Streetscape money.  In the next budget cycle, the money for the Streetscape was restored to the DDOT budget.



To emphasize the main South Hall portico entrance, the reconstructed Farmers’ Line shed was built in two parts, with a break at the portico.  It required EMCAC’s advocacy to convince DDOT that this was a special situation, and they should depart from their policy of no mid-block cross walks, to provide the one we have now at the South Hall portico. The cobra-style lights at intersections have been replaced with period-appropriate pendant–style light.  The new Washington Globe street lights have cross arms and electric receptacles for holiday lighting.  The brick sidewalks have been redone with period appropriate molded brick. 7th Street in front of the Market is paved with a modern pre-cast concrete block that gives the appearance of cobblestones, in a tan color to reflect the original gravel paving of the late 1800’s.  It is pedestrian friendly, and conveys a sense that you are entering a special area, one that is different from other streets.



The most badly deteriorated large blocks of stone at the base of the corners of the building, the decorative trim and the main door openings are brownstone replacements designed to match the deteriorated original brownstone, and are from a newly reopened quarry (further repair and replacement of brownstone is still required).  The brick work has been repointed.  The roof has been restored with slate that replaces the artificial slate that had been installed as part of the 1974 renovation.  The original design of the continuous ridgeline vent has been recreated (but now, with electric ventilation fans) and the decorative corner chimneys, cornices and roof ornamentation reflect the original design.  The flagpole over the South hall portico is now metal, rather than wood, and has lighting, so the flag can be illuminated at night.


The windows are new, and the former milky–looking plastic has been replaced with glass with a hardly noticeable gray tint, plus shades, to reduce glare and improve the appearance of displayed food.  The window and door trim has been painted the original colors, based on a historic paint analysis.  The green on the South Hall trim and white on the North Hall trim reminds us that they were built at different times, and the two eras had different tastes in paint colors.  The interior is protected with a fire sprinkler system and there are ADA compliant ramps and automatic doors to access the Market. The actuators for the automatic doors that face 7th Street are located in the base of the period light fixtures that flank the ADA entrances.



The plaza area between the North Hall and North Carolina Avenue has been reconfigured.  The tree boxes have been moved to the perimeters so it is more pedestrian-friendly for weekend vending and for special events.  Four tall period light standards have been installed so the entire plaza area can be illuminated for night-time events and bicycle racks have been installed. The use of the Aquatic Center Plaza by the Market was recognized in the legislation as a part of the Eastern Market Special use Area and has become the place for prepared food vending.



Under the Eastern Market legislation, the North Hall is designated as a community arts center and public meeting space.  The restored North Hall is for the first time heated and air-conditioned.  Acoustic treatment has been applied to the north and south walls to overcome the booming reverberation, and the acoustics now approach those of Carnegie Hall. It has a wet bar, suitable for catering and theatrical lighting  (a de-mountable stage and moveable  art display panels are now in storage)  The space can be configured as a display area, a performance area, a meeting space, and used for special events such as receptions, and, with the new lighting of the North Plaza those events can take place both indoors and out.  For today’s anniversary celebration, there is a photography display that traces the history of the Market, the devastation caused by the fire, and the progress of restoring the Market to what it is today.



Probably at the time the North Hall became a storage space for the Fire Department, the doorway between the North Hall and Center Hall was bricked closed, and a large part of the Center Hall was used for the Market Lunch kitchen.  The Market Lunch area has been reconfigured and a clear passageway is now provided through the Center Hall, with double doors opening into the South Hall and double doors that open into the North Hall. The doors into both the North and South Hall are aligned and similar in size. They provide a visually significant, architecturally pleasing and functional passageway between the North and South Halls, and also provide access to the new, ADA compliant rest rooms.



Since the time of the construction of the Center and North Hall there were a total of 4 W/C and 2 lavatories in the men’s and women’s restrooms combined (plus two Jiffy Johns in the North Hall). The restored Market has 13 W/Cs, 3 urinals, and 10 lavatories located in the Center Hall that are accessible from both the North Hall and the South Hall, plus a unisex restroom in the South Hall basement Pottery Studio.



An immediately noticeable change in the South Hall is the brightness provided by the skylights and new window glazing.  Following the fire, the frame structures for the skylight system were discovered.  Even though there is no record of glass ever having been installed in the frames, some believe the framing indicates skylights were planned. The skylights are fitted with a special glass that minimizes UV transmission and improves the appearance of the displayed foods.  Also the new windows have tinted glass and shades, to avoid an overly bright, washed-out appearance of the displayed food.  The area lighting is controlled by a dimmer system, to provide a uniform level of light and reduce energy usage.  Another change in the South Hall is the addition of kiosks along the wall to house the fan/coil units that provide heating, cooling and ventilation air.  They also house the electric and gas meters for the individual merchants.


The roof truss system is of a unique design. When it was originally built, modern steel had not been developed and the trusses were built of cast iron and wrought iron.  Because of the effect of the fire, the structural integrity of those original trusses were compromised. Modern, high strength steel trusses were fabricated that replicate the original design.  When you look up, you might be able to see that every other one of the trusses is a new, steel truss and the ones between them are the original cast iron/wrought iron trusses.  The new steel trusses are of sufficient strength to support the entire roof load and the original, fire-compromised trusses do not carry any of the load.



Originally, the second floor of the Center Hall was used as a restaurant or cafe.  It was later converted to the Pottery Studio. With the decision to air condition the building, this space was repurposed for the mechanical room for the air conditioning chillers and air handlers for the North Hall.  For heating, the original boiler room space in the basement now houses two new boilers, and the hot water is distributed to fan coil units in the basement and Center Hall (to supply the North Hall), which draw fresh air from the air intakes across the alley and distribute heat or ventilation air through the new kiosks along the walls of the South Hall. The former vents in the roof peak of the South Hall have been replaced with electric exhaust fans that are designed to operate to maintain comfort conditions at times when neither heating nor air conditioning is needed.



At the time of the fire, the Pottery Studio was located on the second floor of the Center Hall.  It was established in 1967, now operated by Chuck Brome. With that space now being used for air conditioning equipment, the Pottery Studio has been relocated at the southern end of the South Hall basement.  Modern, code compliant kilns are installed, plus a unisex restroom.  It is accessed from the exterior double stairs at the south end of the Market.


An elevator has been installed to deliver the Merchants’ goods from the alley to the basement. Walk-in coolers are located in the basements for long-term and seasonal storage.  The space is also used for air handling units that distribute heat and ventilation air and a separate room to house the compressor and condenser units that cool the refrigerated display units and walk-in coolers.  The basement now has increased ceiling height and the original vaulted design of the ceiling has been recreated. 

National Register Historic Report

This program is being funded, partially or fully, through the District of Columbia Executive Office of the Mayor - Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

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