The future of Eastern Market

In a flurry of Twitter messages this morning, my friends and I all wondered what the eventual fate of Eastern Market would be. Mayor Fenty is promising to rebuild, but will the character be preserved? Will Starbucks be permitted to open a store there in exchange for a rebuilding grant?

The Washington Post reported this morning:

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.

Wondering exactly what National Historic Landmark designation means for a property that needs to be rebuilt, I checked out the National Park Service’s National Historic Landmark Program page, only to discover… Eastern Market is not, in fact, designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Wondering how I caught, in 5 minutes of Googling and using NPS’ own database, what the WaPo fact checkers had not (hey guys, did you take the morning off?), I noticed that the National Register of Historic Places is a separate list, also maintained by the National Park Service. Eastern Market does indeed appear on this list.

What’s the difference? I’m so glad you asked:

National Historic Landmarks are buildings, sites, districts, structures, and objects that have been determined by the Secretary of the Interior to be nationally significant in American history and culture.

The National Register of Historic Places is the Nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. Authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect our historic and archeological resources. Properties listed in the Register include districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture.

National Register sites are eligible for certain federal tax credits, federal grants for preservation when funds are available, and any further protections and grants afforded to them by state and local ordinances. In DC, which as you might imagine has an unusually large proportion of Historic Landmarks and National Register sites, we have an Office of Historic Preservation that manages the local programs. It makes a few grants per year from an appropriation from the National Park Service, but mostly it assists citizens and businesses with permits relating to development and construction that might affect a historic property.

I noticed a distinct lack of information on any of the sites I visited about what assistance may be available when a historic site is nearly destroyed. I did find, however, that DC applies the Secretary of the Interior’s standards to preservation, and it seems reasonable to assume that such standards would apply to Eastern Market’s situation, as well. You can read the relevant regulations for yourself (it’s section 2003), but I’ll summarize. It looks like any rebuilding of Eastern Market will require that the building be used for its original purpose, any “replaced features” will have to be identical to the old ones, and that nothing can be added that would change the “historic character” of the building. Additionally, the Office of Historic Preservation may prepare design guidelines for the work to be done, which must then be presented at a public hearing.

So in short, I’m optimistic that we won’t see an Eastern Market Starbucks anytime soon, though I expect that if Starbucks did want to make a donation, they could get a plaque on the wall or something. I might humbly suggest to the OHP, though, that they make an exception to the preservation rules and allow the installation of an inconspicuous sprinkler system.

5 Comments so far

  1. Erik (unregistered) on April 30th, 2007 @ 4:45 pm


    Thanks for the research and elaboration. I live a few blocks away and am horrified by what’s happened. I’m heading down to the market after work to survey the damage for myself. Another Hill resident and I are planning to put together a blog to chronicle developments – we’ve just purchased and are planning to chronicle developments for the community.


  2. Erik (unregistered) on April 30th, 2007 @ 4:48 pm

    I need to work on my proofreading!

  3. Clinton (unregistered) on April 30th, 2007 @ 5:54 pm

    Thanks, Tiffany. This is my first time reading your blog, but I appreciate the research. I found another site that talked about an old push for a $5 Million renovation to Eastern Market which would affect the character of the building/historic place (

    Erik, I would love to speak with you. I want to put together a fundraiser for the displaced vendors and other businesses to be affected by decreased foot traffic and revenue. Tiffany, can you put us in contact with one another?


  4. Joe Vitek (unregistered) on April 30th, 2007 @ 6:10 pm

    I’m a potter and friends with the potters who work (worked?) athe the EMP pottery. We were the first to start selling crafts alongside the market vendors on Saturdays back in 1970. I’m hoping they are all ok.

  5. Jon (unregistered) on May 1st, 2007 @ 7:34 am

    This is crushing news. I’m currently living the ExPat life in Western Europe, and I regularly dream about my return to DC for crabcake sandwiches and blues from the Market Lunch. What shall I do?!?

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