To Market, To Market

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, March 29, 2011 No Comment(s)

Washington, D.C. – Spring began with a flower, winter counter attacked, and last Sunday morning the temperature was exactly at freezing and a light coat of snow covered the roofs and windshields of cars. It was a strange end to a strange winter, north and south. People walking the streets all wore hats and bulky jackets, yet the cherry blossoms were blooming and golden daffodils and an occasional tulip popped from the frosty little lawns of the Capitol Hill neighborhood.


Considering the weather, the Eastern Market was busy by mid-morning. This is a Washington institution, dating to 1873 when Washington had a series of city-owned markets scattered in its then growing neighborhoods. The market concept was envisioned almost a century earlier by Pierre L’Enfant, when he laid out the plan for the capital. All the other markets are gone, and the Eastern Market almost joined them, but was twice saved by community preservationists, first in the 1930s when the other markets closed, and then in the 1950s. At the time super markets and corner groceries were making the market obsolete. Yet its obsolescence, joined with a building designed by a famous architect, brought it back to life. Capitol Hill was at the time somewhat obsolete itself, running down fast, but gentrification was on the way and it seemed sensible to retain what was historic and charming.


It’s a classic market. Indoors are booths selling just about every kind of food, many varieties of meats, fish, pastries, coffees. The market moves outside on weekends, when a street is closed, and then there is also food, especially fruit, but a little bit of everything – arts and crafts, unusual clothing, a stand specializing in crepes. People stand in line for 20 minutes to buy these. You can purchase everything but a zoning change – all of it sold by people who come from many cultures, all nicer and more helpful than the next person. On the streets around the market are cozy cafes, bars, coffee houses. It’s a place with thousands of regular customers, including those who drop in early in the day for breakfast, but also visitors who have heard of its reputation. It is popular with young families, many of whom work for government or related companies, who have poured into this old neighborhood. On weekends the kids are entertained by musicians in the original old building.


In the crisp cold air scented by the aroma of near residential fire places, thoughts head south to balmy Fort Lauderdale, and Las Olas Boulevard, specifically the Hyde Park property in front of the Stranahan House. The old supermarket, razed to make room for a large condo, would have made an ideal site for such a facility.


The condominium project was delayed by litigation after the city passed a bond issue that would have given the developer four times what it paid for the property a few years earlier. It likely would have been a disaster for the developer, who would never admit that. Instead the property sits idle, unlikely to be acted on for years. The city wanted the property as a park, a green compliment to the historic Stranahan House.


We wonder if the city might be able to use the economy to reopen negotiations. If not a park, a market with the style of Washington’s would be a wonderful addition to Las Olas, offsetting the disaster that befell the street when the Riverside Hotel expansion collapsed, a classic error of knocking stuff down without the money to replace it, leaving a gap where the heart of the action once stood.



It probably will not happen, but it is aromatic to think so.



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