A Window Into South Hall's Progress
Thursday, July 17, 2008
The door frame still stands, reduced to rippled, bumpy charcoal when the historic Eastern Market caught fire in April 2007. An arched window nearby twists into the near-empty hall, drooping as a testament to the intense heat of the three-alarm blaze.
Yesterday, though, the emphasis was on the new windows that bring light into the airy South Hall of the market, which has been cleared of the remnants of the fishmongers, butchers and bakers who once crowded the space. Portions of new metal chimneys that look like Victorian bird feeders are stacked on the floor.
They are the signs of the reconstruction that began almost immediately after the building burned and are proceeding on schedule and on budget, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said yesterday as he toured the work in progress.
The 135-year-old market will be finished by next summer at a cost of $14 million, he said.
The roof has been replaced, as have most of the windows. Pieces of the old cornice -- the decorative ridge at the base of the roof -- are heaped against the western wall.
Now workers must tackle the interior, Fenty said.
The market, which had been the only one of a series of 19th-century public market buildings still being used for its original purpose, holds a spot in the hearts of the locals who patronized it regularly and of the tourists who flowed through, attracted by glossy guidebook descriptions.
The renovated market will be brought into the 21st century with air conditioning, sprinklers, and ramps and accessible restrooms. A long-unused basement will be made available for storage and for a potter's studio.
The cause of last year's fire has not been determined. Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin said yesterday that the fire had been "electrical in nature" and was accidental.
Other remnants of the old market are visible. A hand-painted pane of glass advertises "Smoking Turkey From the Mountains," complete with illustration. A delicate fruit basket, overflowing with cherries, grapes and bananas, is painted onto a wall.
Some in the neighborhood fear those traces of history will be swept away by the force of modernization, said D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).
"Eastern Market is like a perfectly worn baseball glove . . . that you can't live without," Wells said. Constituents have told him they are uneasy about the "spectacular new windows," he said, which lack the well-used quality of the old.
For now, some of those arched frames remain, stacked in a corner and stained by smoke, soot and time.