Eastern Market, Washington DC


Eastern Market
NPS Photo

Eastern Market has long been an important element in the Capitol Hill community by providing a neighborhood market for over a century and a gathering place for residents. The market, completed in 1873, was designed by Adolph Cluss, a prominent local architect who designed the Franklin and Sumner Schools as well as many other post-Civil War buildings in the District of Columbia. Typical of the commercial architecture of the period, Eastern Market is one of the few public markets left in Washington, DC, and the only one retaining its original public market function.

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 as both an anchor 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, DC 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.

Eastern Market, 7th and C Sts., SE, 1889
Historical Society of Washington, DC

Eastern Market benefitted from the diligent research of Adolf Cluss who made a specialized utilitarian structure based on the prevailing ideas for market design. Among them were a lofty one-story space with an open plan, stall arrangement, natural light, easy access and exit, ventilation and no heat for better storage of perishable items. The Italianate style used by Cluss in the South Hall was useful for handling the many windows and doors typically found in market buildings. As Capitol’s Hill’s population spread in the early 20th century, the pressure to expand Eastern Market mounted. The city’s office of Public Works, under architect Snowden Ashford, designed the new addition containing the Center and North Halls in 1908. With its growing importance, Eastern Market was unofficially recognized as the “town center” of Capitol Hill.

Even as Eastern Market expanded, changes were underway that would almost destroy Washington’s market system. Developers began abandoning the “out-of-date” portion of Capitol Hill, which included Eastern Market. Competition for Eastern Market also formed with the arrival of the “grocery store chain.” By 1929, Eastern Market had lost too many customers to support the vendors who occupied the North Hall. After an attempt by the city to close the market, civic groups and individuals in the Eastern Market neighborhood protested and the Market lived on.

The downturn of the market house after World War II further threatened the Eastern Market. When the DC Government moved to close the remaining public markets, Charles Glasgow, Sr. suggested he assume management responsibility for the market in the mid-1950s. The Eastern Market Corporation was formed and leased the South and Center Halls, now managed by Eastern Market Ventures. In recent years, the Market has served as a focal point in the revitalization of the Capitol Hill area, making Eastern Market once again a “town center,” both politically and commercially.

Eastern Market is located at 7th and C Sts., SE, across from the Eastern Market Metro Station. It is open to the public every day of the week except for Mondays.