On days when I want to go on a longer than usual lunchtime bike ride, one of my favorite destinations is Old Town Alexandria. And that is where I rode to today. And it was during this ride I visited the Alexandria Market Square and City Hall, located at 301 King Street (MAP).
The site of the Alexandria Market Square and City Hall originally began as a market beginning in 1749. Then in 1752, lottery proceeds funded the building of a town hall and courthouse on the site. George Washington served as a justice in this court. Later, in 1817, a new three-story brick building was constructed, including a town clock tower designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe. But an extensive fire in May of 1871 gutted the building. Given the importance of the building, the townspeople raised enough money to pay for an exact replica of the former building. And that building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in March of 1984, is still standing today.
The current Second Empire-style building was designed by Adolph Cluss, was a German-born American immigrant who became one of the most important architects in the D.C. area, in the late 19th century. He was nicknamed the “Red Architect” based on red brick being his favorite building material, and his early communist sympathies, though later in life he became a confirmed Republican. Cluss is responsible for designing scores of major public buildings in the D.C. area, including at least eleven schools, as well as markets, government buildings, museums, residences and churches. His designs include the Franklin School and the Sumner School, as well as other notable public buildings in the capital, including the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Building, Calvary Baptist Church, and two of the city’s major food markets, Center Market and Eastern Market.
The original city hall was something of a complex, containing the court facility, both the principal police and fire stations of Alexandria. The Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge also had its headquarters located in the building until 1945, when it moved out of City Hall and into the new George Washington Masonic National Memorial on nearby King Street. Today the City Hall building houses many of the Alexandria government offices, including the City Council Chambers on the second floor.