Eastern Market Prepares to Reopen in Original Location

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 21, 2009

The interior is painted a dark, salmon pink, just as it was when the place was built in 1873. Sunlight glows from the skylights. And Juan Jose Canales, one of the mainstay vendors at Eastern Market, has added seafood sausage and tuna prosciutto to his impressive range of meats, "so we have something new on this day."

Eastern Market will have a lot of new touches Friday, when it reopens more than two years after a blaze that stunned devotees of the venerated Capitol Hill food hall.

The $22 million rebuilding project has created a market that this generation has never seen. For years before the April 30, 2007, fire, the place was in disrepair. Now it is more structurally sound and truer to its magnificent past.

All of the dozen or so vendors are returning to their familiar spots to sell food, flowers, crafts and other goods in a market that blends old and new. The window styles, color schemes and architectural details come from the Victorian age.

Workers chipped away at the charred walls and through more than a century of paint to find the first color to grace the walls -- salmon, according to H. Michael Hill at Quinn Evans Architects, which is doing the renovation.

The architects went back to records from 1914 at the National Archives to make sure they had historically accurate lampposts and 1882 photos at the Library of Congress to ensure that the arches and windows were the right kind.

Reflecting its importance as a community gathering place, the building will include a movable stage, walls to display art and photo galleries, even a dance floor.

There is an elaborate sprinkler system, windows with UVA protection and ample restrooms -- instead of one.

The second floor, where the one nasty restroom festered and clay was thrown on pottery wheels, now accommodates an enormous heating and air-conditioning system.

The basement, which was a dank, dark place of limp holiday decorations and raw sewage, is now a bright, lively space. The original brick arches supporting the ground floor of the market and cast-iron posts with decorative flourishes are clean and well lighted. This will be the new home of the pottery studio.

On top of these changes, the District made improvements to sidewalks, curbs, utilities and lighting.

The day after the devastating fire, foodies from all over came to mourn the landmark, fondly remembering the pumpkin ravioli, reminiscing about plates of the buckwheat blueberry pancakes known as "bluebucks" and wondering whether anyone would ever again serve samples of manchego cheese.

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