Paul Pascal, a lawyer who was dubbed “Mayor of the Market” for his decades-long effort to preserve Northeast Washington’s renowned Union Market food emporium, which he helped shepherd from an open-air wholesale center to a more upscale food hall, died April 9 at his home in Bethesda, Md. He was 80.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, said a son, Craig Pascal.
Mr. Pascal wasn’t a chef and did not have a culinary business, but he served as an important behind-the-scenes player who helped maintain the market as a food mecca for wholesale distributors in Northeast Washington. He also led efforts to save the market from potential demolition.
“If not for Paul’s passion for his neighborhood and his fierce advocacy on behalf of the small and local businesses that contribute to its distinct character, the neighborhood would not be the flourishing success it is today,” D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) said in a statement.
Mr. Pascal’s introduction to Union Terminal Market came as he was visiting his girlfriend at her family’s poultry business in 1955. There were chickens hanging from the ceiling, and he was wearing his crisp starched Air Force uniform. “I’ll never come back here,” he told her, as he recounted in a video interview.
At the time, the market was a mostly airy space offering meats, fish, dairy and produce. Mr. Pascal set up his law office at the market in 1966. He represented a food distributors association, which included members who also had shops at the market. He continued to work as a lawyer and lobbyist for market shop owners and for wholesale liquor merchants.
When the D.C. Council introduced a plan in 2006 that could allow a developer to redevelop the space, Mr. Pascal, who was the market’s on-site attorney, explained why he was fighting to safeguard the businesses from this proposal.
“One of my concerns,” he told the Washington Business Journal in 2007, was that the plan “could lead to condemnation and total destruction of the market.”
His goal was not to block change but to preserve the area’s historical legacy “to the extent market forces will allow it,” he said.
What used to be called Union Terminal Market is now referred to as Union Market or the Florida Avenue Market, a food hall located in a 45-acre district that used to be occupied solely by wholesale warehouse buildings. In 2013, Bon Appétit magazine named it one of the best five food halls in the country. Three years later, the Union Market area was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The market is one of the few truly authentic places left in this city,” Terrance Williams, an architecture scholar at Catholic University, told the Washington Times in 2007. It “has a bit of dirt under its fingernails that makes it attractive to a niche market.”
Mr. Pascal wanted to make sure that “property owners didn’t get ripped off as new development came flying through there, and he did a good job,” Grosso said in an interview.
Paul Leonard Pascal was born in Washington on June 18, 1937. His father was a researcher at the National Archives, and his mother died during his birth. He was raised by his stepmother, a nurse.
After graduating in 1955 from Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Md., he joined the Air Force as a bassoonist at Joint Base Andrews. While in the military, he graduated from University of Maryland University College with a business degree. He graduated in 1966 from George Washington University Law School.
Survivors include his wife of 60 years, Brenda Kolker Pascal of Bethesda; three sons, Craig Pascal of Washington, Bruce Pascal of Potomac, Md., and Richard Pascal of Norwich, Conn.; five grandchildren; and one great-grandson.
Mr. Pascal thought there was room for traditional food wholesalers to continue to operate alongside the new restaurants, bars and retail stores at the market.
“It’s a vibrant area now,” he told WTOP radio in 2016. He and his wife enjoyed visiting the site of her family’s former poultry business and volunteered to give tours to historical groups over the past decade, his family said.
“It’s the heritage,” Mr. Pascal said. “It’s the continuing heritage that Brenda and her sisters have, and now our children and our grandchildren will have it.”