Monday, April 30, 2007

Historic Eastern Market Burns

i woke up this morning to a phone call from a friend telling me that eastern market had burnt down. i almost started crying. i eat breakfast there at LEAST once a week. on friday i ate there 3 times. i love it. i know the vendors; they know me. the other day i was having a crummy morning and was late for a meeting so i stopped by to get a sandwich. as i was leaving, anna, the woman behind the counter at market lunch told me to have a good day and then added, sincerely, "i love you kimberly". and i loved her and i loved that place. it was wonderful because people would just talk to you about anything: the new harris teeter going in and how they were trying to push out safeway, places to get your hair cut (this was particularly helpful when the girls were living with us), what should happen with john bolton, who should our next president be, etc. i mean this is dc. you can talk about anything (but religion: and even that is okay most of the time).

so this mornings news was devastating. i was surprised at how sad i was. i actually teared up. who would think that a building you don't own or live in could be so meaningful. it made me think of all the mosques and markets that are being destroyed in iraq and how it must feel to the common iraqi. the lose of community, or even an emblem of your community, is deep and sad.

i really hope that they rebuild the market. that it doesn't become commercialized with dean and delucas and subway sandwich shops. but that the same vendors will return. that the authenticity of the market will come back. i can still get beautiful flowers, yummy sandwiches, all sorts of delicious cheeses, and the worlds best bacon (according to lindsay).

i fear that there will be a tug of war between developers and residents. that politicians will do what politicians do: protect their power. i fear that the since of community we now feel will be bastardized by greed and perverted by selfishness. i hope this doesn't happen.

here are some photos from this morning. i will get some better photos from the post later. they have everything taped off so you can't get close and my little camera just doesn't really do it justice.

please note the melted glass

the ceiling through the windows

the glass was the real deal so when it got really hot, it just turned to custard

this is the most random use of police tape EVER!

below is an article from the washington post's paper this morning.

Fire coursed through the shops of the historic Eastern Market on Capitol Hill early Monday morning, gutting the southern half of the 134-year-old landmark.

It took 160 District firefighters two hours to extinguish the blaze, which tore through the roof and all but demolished the collection of meat, produce and other shops popular with neighborhood residents and throughout the region.

Fire chief Dennis L. Rubin said investigators believe the fire began in a dumpster behind the market, then spread to the building itself. Roads around the market, at 7th St. between C and D streets SE, were closed during the morning rush hour, the building still smoldering from the fire.

"This is devastating," said District fire spokesman Alan Etter. "Basically everything is charred and destroyed."

The building--which is owned by the D.C. government -- was empty and no one was injured. But the emotional scar was quickly apparent as shop owners, residents and customers gathered outside to hug and cry over the loss of their businesses and the loss of a community touchstone.

"This is a shocker. The most heart-wrenching thing is to see my customers," said Melvin Inman Sr., who has owned Market Poultry for 32 years. "The market is part of the community and the body of Capitol Hill."

Fire officials said they do not yet know what started the blaze in the dumpster, or what caused it to spread to the market structure. Investigators said they had also received reports of another dumpster fire late yesterday a few blocks from the market, and would search for any connections between the two.

"I don't think it is a total loss . . . I would not say that it is unusable," Etter said of the market. But "I would expect the whole building to be empty for some time."

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) toured the market with Rubin for about an hour starting at 7 a.m. and emerged vowing to rebuild it.

"This building has such great history and importance to the city," Fenty said. "We'll bring it back 100 percent. How could we not? It's going to take some resources and some good planning but . . . that's too much history to let get burned away."

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who lives on Capitol Hill and is a regular at the market on Saturdays, said she would seek federal funding to help in the rebuilding effort.

"Eastern Market is a one-of-a-kind landmark . . . of value to the country and not just the city," Norton told Fox 5 news. She said she sees fellow U.S. lawmakers, as well as many of her own constituents, on her weekly shopping excursions at the market. "This is a heartache and a headache at the same time."

Etter said the damage was most severe in the market's original South Hall, where a collection of 14 vendors sell fresh meat, cheese, poultry and produce in a European-style setting treasured by regulars and tourists. The center area of the complex was also badly damaged while the northern part, housing an arts and community center, was largely spared.

Firefighters entered the South Hall to fight the fire when they first arrived, Etter said, but were ordered out by commanders who feared the brick structure might collapse. They continued to battle the blaze from the outside, spraying water onto the roof and walls as flames and smoke filled the night sky.

"The roof has been just -- you know, when they get up there they have to chop holes in it just to ventilate," Etter said. "There's a lot of water damage, a lot of smoke and heat damage."

In continuous operation since 1873, Eastern Market was designed by noted architect Adolph Cluss and is a recognized National Historic Landmark. The market sits just off Pennsylvania Avenue SE, on the neighborhood's eastern edge.

Etter called it "the heart and soul" of Capitol Hill -- a fact apparent in the quick outpouring of emotion this morning.

"I don't know what I am going to do," said Tom Calomiris, whose family has owned the Calomiris and Sons produce stand for 62 years. "I grew up working in the market since I was eight years old. Hopefully they will fix it quickly so we can get back to work. It is a question of what the government wants to do. Our life is in their hands."

Fenty said the city would try to find another place for vendors to operate while the market is repaired. "For some of them, their entire livelihood has been taken away," he said. "If there's an alternate space we can find for them, we will do that."

The facility is the last remaining of the neighborhood food markets that dotted the capital before the advent of grocery stores and supermarket chains.

Neighborhood activists and preservationists have sparred with the city for years over how best to preserve the market and draw the maximum number of vendors to it.

The market is busiest on weekends, when hundreds of people wait in long lines to order fresh blueberry pancakes and crab cakes, stock up on fresh flowers and vegetables at an outdoor farmers market, and hunt for bargains at a flea market.

Police closed a stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue SE in the hours after the blaze, but reopened it in time for the morning rush.

Etter said that 7th St. remained closed between C and D streets SE as of 7 a.m., and North Carolina and Independence avenues were still closed between 6th and 8th streets SE.


KamilahNYC said...

I hadn't heard. This is truly devastating. I have so many memories of eating the bluebuck pancackes, getting beautiful flowers and jewelry and it was always a must see when visitors would come to town. I really hope they rebuild!

two forks said...

how horrible!!! i am definitely so sad right along with you. i love eastern market... i even had nancy take our engagement shots there! so sad. thanks for posting it.

Katie and Scotty said...

So sad. My mom and sister are coming at the end of the month, and blueberry buckwheats were definitely on our list of things to do. I feel so bad for those who lost their business.