13 Nov 2023


Lost Capitol Hill: 150 Years of Eastern Market

Seth Shapiro as Adolph Cluss

This weekend marked the 150th anniversary of Eastern Market, and of course this was duly celebrated. All weekend, the North Hall was open and there was the opportunity to play large-scale games in the center, while around the outside, there were cooking demonstrations and even the chance to have your silhouette rendered in cut paper.

Sunday at noon, there was a (mercifully brief) ceremony on the stage on which a number of different bands played throughout the weekend. After a few words from numerous people who had made this celebration possible, and surrounded by local dignitaries such as Chuck Berger, Phil Mendelson, Tommy Wells, Barry Margesen, Delano Hunter and even Adolph Cluss (well a Cluss impersonator) Charles Allen rang a bell to signal the re-opening of the market, and the hopes for another 150 years serving the community.

The highlight of the weekend were the tours of Eastern Market conducted by a number of volunteers. The tours – which had originally been designed by CHRS as part of their House Expo a few weeks ago – gave about 150 people the opportunity to learn more about the architecture and history of the market. A a special feature, the groups were allowed into some of the normally closed spaces in the market, including the basement, where the infrastructure necessary to run the market – including the HVAC system and some walk-in coolers and freezers – could be seen, but also the scars from the time over one hundred years ago when the market was used as a rifle range.

A tour group (and their guide) in the old cafe space (RSP/Barry Margeson)

Just to show us that the market still has a mind of its own, somewhere right as the dignitaries were on the stage, a pool of water began appearing in the basement. While there is no reason to presume that this will damage the market in the long term, it did mean that the tours could not go downstairs. Instead, Barry Margesen allowed the guides to take their groups upstairs into what was originally planned as the market master’s office, then later was used as a cafe, and is today, once again office space.

While it would be pretty amazing to have a cafe there again, what with the room having four large windows looking down on the bustling market below, the reality of the space pretty much precludes this. Not only is it simply too small to accommodate any meaningful number of guests, but the stairs up are one step away from being a spiral staircase. To say nothing about what the ADA would have to say about it.

But, for a brief moment, there was an opportunity to occupy a space that for some time served food and drink to those conducting business at the market. And the possibility to put yourself in the shoes of those long-gone customers. We sincerely hope that those who were up there will long remember this very special event, and will look at the market in a whole new way in the future!

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