Posts Tagged ‘Historic Eastern Market’

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Eastern Market

There used to be a city-wide system of public marketplaces in D.C. The system was part of Pierre L’Enfant’s original design plan for the city, which called for an Eastern, a Central and a Western Market. The markets were intended to supplement existing markets in Georgetown, and across the Potomac River in Alexandria, and provide a steady and orderly supply of goods to urban residents. One of those markets is still in operation today. Known as Eastern Market, it is located at 225 7th Street (MAP) in southeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and it was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

In 1805, President Thomas Jefferson issued a proclamation calling for Eastern Market to be set up at 7th and L Streets, near the Washington Navy Yard in southeast D.C. The original market received heavy damage during the British attack of 1814 known as the “Burning of Washington,” when many of the Federal government’s buildings, including the Department of the Treasury Building, the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building were burned. The market was repaired and remained active until a half a century later, when the Civil War caused a disruption in the availability and delivery of supplies. The market resumed normal operations after the war, but continued to struggle and fell into a state of disrepair. By 1871 Eastern Market was nearly abandoned, and was described in a local newspaper account as a “disgraceful shed.”

Eastern Market relocated in 1873 to its present location in a building designed by Adolf Cluss, a German-born American immigrant who became one of the most important architects in the national capitol city by designing dozens of local post-Civil War buildings, among them the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall, Calvary Baptist Church, and the Franklin and Sumner Schools. Enjoying a renewed success as Capitol’s Hill’s population increased in the early 20th century, the market needed to expand. So the city’s Office of Public Works, under architect Snowden Ashford, designed the new addition containing the Center and North Halls in 1908.  Eastern Market was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

In the years since, Eastern Market has had more than its share of difficulties, but it has continued to not only persevere, but thrive. In the early 1900’s, the market had to ward off D.C. Health Department, which had made numerous findings of deficiencies with its sanitation. But Eastern Market survived. In the 1920’s a chain supermarket opened right across the street from the market. It cut into its business, but the market survived. Then in the 1940’s, D.C. bureaucrats proposed transforming Eastern Market into a supermarket. And a decade later, a congressional bill envisioned turning a revamped market into a national children’s theater. Neither of these proposals was successful, and the market survived. In the 1950’s, the city license bureau criticized the market as uneconomical, and in 1960’s the D.C. health commissioner declared Eastern Market “a menace to public health.” But the criticisms of the market were no more successful in shutting down Eastern Market than the proposals to change it. Additional challenges could not bring an end to Eastern Market either, such as vendors having to work without leases when the city refused to renew expired leases, a proposal for a freeway to run through the site, and the urban economic downturn after riots in 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Perhaps the biggest threat to Eastern Market’s continued existence occurred in 2007, when the building was badly damaged by an early-morning 3-alarm fire. Part of the roof collapsed, and The Washington Post has described the South Hall as “gutted so badly that birds can now fly in through the front windows and out the back ones.” Following the fire the Mayor vowed to rebuild Eastern Market, and even provided a temporary market annex, known as the “East Hall,” across the street on the grounds of Hine Junior High School to be used during the rebuilding process. After two years of reconstruction work, Eastern Market reopened its doors in June of 2009, ending the only extended hiatus in the market’s 210 years of continuous operation.

The other city markets are now long gone. Center Market, where the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Building is today, was razed in 1931. And Western Market, which was located at 21st and K streets in northwest D.C., was closed in 1961. But when the D.C. government closed the other public markets, Charles Glasgow, Sr., who operated two stalls at Eastern Market, suggested that he assume management responsibility for the market. The Eastern Market Corporation was formed and leased the South and Center Halls, now managed by Eastern Market Ventures. So Eastern Market remains open, and continues to host a thriving farmers’ market.

Everything from finest meats, poultry and seafood, to pasta, delicatessen, baked goods and cheeses from around the world are sold from indoor stalls during the week.  There is also a lunch counter where you can get a bite to eat while you shop.  And on the weekends, recently-harvested produce direct from farms in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia are sold outside along the covered sidewalk.  Artisans and antiques dealers also sell their goods outside the market on weekends, while live music adds some entertainment, making Eastern Market a popular stop for locals as well as tourists.

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The Emancipation Memorial

On this bike ride I went to see The Emancipation Memorial in the heart of Lincoln Park.  The largest urban park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in northeast D.C., Lincoln Park is bounded by 11th Street on the west, 13th Street on the east, the westbound lanes of East Capitol Street on the North, and East Capitol Street’s eastbound lanes on the south (MAP).  The park is situated one mile directly east of the United States Capitol Building, and four blocks northeast of Historic Eastern Market.  It is one of the oldest parks in D.C., having been included in Pierre L’Enfant’s original 1791 design plan for the national capitol city.  Lincoln Park is maintained by the National Park Service.

The Emancipation Memorial is also known as the Freedman’s Memorial or the Emancipation Group. It was also initially referred to as the “Lincoln Memorial” before the more prominent so-named memorial was built at the western end of the National Mall almost fifty years later.  Designed and sculpted by Thomas Ball and erected in 1876, The Emancipation Memorial depicts President Abraham Lincoln in his role of “The Great Emancipator” freeing a male African American slave.  Lincoln holds a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in his right hand, resting on a plinth.  The ex-slave is depicted crouching at the president’s feet, wearing only a loin cloth.  The former slave’s broken shackles lie at his side.

The bronze statue is part of a group of statues entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.,” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city.  They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

The dedication ceremony for this “original Lincoln memorial” was held on April 14, 1876, the 11th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination.  President Ulysses S. Grant attended the ceremony, as did members of his cabinet, and congressmen and senators.  Frederick Douglass, the famed African-American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman, provided the keynote address to a crowd of approximately 25,000 who were in attendance on that day.

The monument has long been the subject of controversy and a source of mixed feelings.   According to the National Park Service, the monument was paid for solely by freed slaves, primarily from African American Union veterans.  However, despite being paid for by African Americans, some historians condemned it as paternalistic, portraying Lincoln as the savior of a race that couldn’t save itself.  Critics claim that it ignores the active role blacks played in ending slavery, and perpetuates racist ideology because of the supplicant position of the freed slave.  Others recognize that the imagery of the statue isn’t ideal, but embrace it nonetheless as part of history.  They derive its meaning and significance from knowing that it meant something to the people of its time. Perhaps the various thoughts and feelings about The Emancipation Memorial are best summed up by Anise Jenkins, president of an advocacy group for D.C. statehood named “Stand Up! For Democracy.”

In commenting about the statue at a recent Emancipation Day ceremony in Lincoln Park, she stated, “It’s part of our history and it depends what you bring to it.  If you’re ashamed of our history of slavery, then that’s what you bring to it. But we have to be honest. Enslaved people loved Abraham Lincoln. They called him Father Abraham. You can question it from a modern perspective, but you can’t ignore its significance.”

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Tortilla Cafe

Tortilla Café

For my traditional end-of-the-month restaurant review for the month of June, I chose to ride to Tortilla Cafe, located at 210 7th Street in southeast D.C. (MAP), in one of D.C.’s hotspots for tourism, the Historic Eastern Market on Capitol Hill.  A self-described Mexican and Salvadoran grill, Tortilla Cafe is small in size but big on flavor, and well worth a visit.

Tortilla Cafe and is managed by Catalina Canales, who seems to know exactly what she’s doing.  Whether she’s in the kitchen in the back creating her signature tamales and papusas that are so good they have developed a cult following, or out front greeting and interacting with the customers with a smile that sets the tone for the place, Catalina remains as authentic as the cuisine.

The distinctive Mexican-Salvadoran offerings on the menu begin with famously tasty tamales, offer with a choice of seasoned pork, chicken, or sweet corn filling, and made with a traditional masa and the perfect blend of spices.  The papusas, empanadas and burritos are equally great choices as well, as are the Salvadoran chicken and Cuban sandwiches.  Other favorites on the menu include Salvadoran beef soup, carne asada, Yucca y Chicharrones.  Lighter seafood options such as talapia tacos, shrimp fajitas, or a salmon Caesar salad are also available.  The availability of so many delicious choices makes the decision of what to order an even more difficult one.

The attention to detail in the finishing touches at Tortilla Cafe complete the experience.  Make sure to place your order as a platter to add sides dishes that include refried or black beans, Salvadoran rice, yucca, and plantains.  And the fresh housemade pico de gallo, salsa, and guacamole at Tortilla Cafe taste as though they are more than mere condiments.  Finally, to enhance your dining experience even more, I recommend that you round out your meal by trying one of the non-alcoholic traditional drink offerings, such as Horchata, Maracuya and Maranon.

Almost as phenomenal as the food is the value. The affordable pricing at Tortilla Cafe would be an amazing value anywhere, but it’s even more amazing for D.C.  There is frequently a line at Tortilla Cafe, but it moves along and the food arrives quickly.  And the inside seating is sparse, with the available seats often fill up during their busier times.  But the additional outdoor seating where I chose to enjoy my lunch offers the added benefit of being able to people watch as locals and tourists alike come and go from Eastern Market.

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