Landmark of the Month (September): Eastern Market

This is a short month for me, as Ginger & I will fly to California this week for the 27th Whitney Classic. (Did you know I was riding this year? Did you know I’m attempting to raise $10,000 for Summit? Did you know you can learn more, and make a donation, about this year’s ride here?)

Since it’s a short month, I was looking for a short subject, something easy and not too time consuming. I found the answer in a stack of Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes.

Blue Bucks!

There’s only one place to go in DC for Blue-Bucks, and that’s Eastern Market. We’d wanted to go for awhile, and when we woke up last Saturday to steady rain, the time had come.

Eastern Market, c. 1973

Eastern Market has been a landmark in the Capitol Hill community since 1873. It was designed as a neighborhood market in 1873 by Adolph Cluss, a prominent local architect who designed dozens of post-Civil War buildings in the District of Columbia. (Cluss is famous in DC for his uses of red bricks…almost all of the prominent historical buildings in DC built out of red bricks were Cluss creations, including the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building and Calvary Baptist Church. His extensive use of red brick, and perhaps his personal sympathies with the Communist Party and friendship with Karl Marx led him to be derisively known as ‘the Red Architect’.)

Adolph Cluss (1825-1905)

Calvary Baptist Church, built in 1866

Part of a larger, city-wide public market system, Eastern Market was built to provide an orderly supply of goods to urban residents. It acted to keep residents from leaving Capitol Hill for a neighborhood with better civic services and as a magnet to draw new people. The Market also symbolized the much-desired “urbanization” of Washington. At the end of the Civil War, the city was under pressure to erase its image as a sleepy southern village or face having the Federal Government removed. Eastern Market became part of the attempt to reshape the city's image and became the first city-owned market to be built under the public works program of the 1870s.

The Eastern Market design is strictly utilitarian. It’s a lofty one-story building with plenty of open space, large stall areas, natural light, easy access and exit, ventilation and no heat for better storage of perishable items.

In the 1920’s, the development of large “grocery store chains” provided serious competition for Eastern Market. Most of the other public-markets closed for lack of business and when the DC Government moved to close the remaining public markets in the mid-1950s, a local citizen offered to assume management. He formed a private company and leased the space for many years, a practice that continues today under a different company, the Eastern Market Joint Venture.

Tragically, Eastern Market was badly damaged by an early-morning fire on April 30, 2007, and the building is expected to be closed until late 2008 or 2009. During renovations, the vendors have either moved outside or in a temporary building across the street.

The morning after. . .

The temporary building is the center of activity. As you enter the building, the line for breakfast will be coiled around and doubled back upon itself, usually 20 or 30 deep. The breakfast counter has a single table (it’s about 20’ long) but once the table is full, the counter stops taking orders. They will only resume once spots open up at the eating table.

Browsing the main hall will give you options to purchase almost every type of food item imaginable. Cold counters full of fish, most locally caught, stare out at you as you pass. Several butcher stalls, offering everything from tremendously thick steaks to piles of pig ears and chicken feet, are next. Then comes the bread stalls—loaves and cakes and pies and pastries of every shape and color. The bread stalls are followed by the cheese stall, full of exotic cheeses with names I can’t even pronounce in my head. The stalls continue, with each one specializing in a certain item—breads, pasta, meat, fish, desserts. You’ll gain 10 pounds just walking through and window shopping.

Pig twicher--yes, tails--only $1.79/pound!

(Hooves for sale(left) and just above the tails was a bin of pig ears!!)

Outside, under the metal awning, less perishable items are offered. Produce, clothes, jewelry, and fresh cut flowers are all displayed as a man playing a banjo entertains the shoppers. Even if you aren’t buying anything, it’s an entertaining place to go people watch, similar to Pier 39 in San Francisco or the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

27 types of salad greens, fresh for your dinner.

MMM...fresh Bufala; great for caprese salad!

Kathy R--should we ship you one?

So the next time you are in town, stop by Eastern Market and pick up an order of Blue-Bucks. You’ll be glad you did.