Traditional Building Portfolio




Eastern Market Rising

Eastern Market, Washington, DC

Quinn Evans Architects: Baird M. Smith, FAIA, FAPT, project director; Tina Roach, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Thomas Jester, AIA, LEED AP, project architects

By Nancy Berry

In 1871, German immigrant and renowned architect Adolf Cluss wanted to introduce a modern public food market to the city of Washington, DC. His innovative design for Capitol Hill's Eastern Market would include high ceilings, an open floor plan, easy access for patrons, vendors and foodstuffs, and an abundance of natural light streaming through skylights and large operable windows. The main floor would be pitched to drain for easy cleaning. Butcher and fishmonger stalls would have trapdoors leading to the basement's ice chests where meats and fish would be kept to prevent spoilage.

Eastern Market is one of several brick 19th-century food halls in the district and the only one still in operation. Threatened by progress throughout the years, such as the proliferation of large supermarkets and other specialty stores, the Eastern Market fell on hard times. The North Hall, which was added to Eastern Market in 1908 by the district's building supervisor, Snowdon Ashford, was given to the local fire department to store supply equipment 20 years later. In 1962, only two vendors operated from the South Hall of the market.

In an effort to save the building from being razed, preservation activists advocated for it being listed on DC's Inventory of Historic Sites. In the 1970s, the massive brick structure was restored. Windows were re-glazed with Plexiglass. Simulated slate replaced the original slate roof, and exterior brownstone was patched. Threatened with interior reconfiguration in the 1980s, the entire building interior was listed locally and on the National Register of Historic Sites in 1991.

In 2005, Quinn Evans Architects was hired by the city to design a modest rehabilitation of the building. The market was to remain open while the architects and contractors worked around the bustling food stalls. In the early morning hours of April 30, 2007, a three-alarm fire swept through the 138-year-old market. When the smoke cleared, the South Hall – which once held bakery, butcher, florist, fishmonger and fruit and vegetable counters – was reduced to a charred brick shell. "In a matter of hours, what was a selective $2.5 million project became a $13 million project," notes Quinn Evans project director Baird Smith. FAIA.

The community was devastated by the disaster, and DC mayor Adrian Fenty vowed that the building would reopen within two years – a tall order for a historic structure so severely damaged by fire. Quinn Evans Architects' scope of restoration work drastically changed at this point. The firm was tasked with repurposing and salvaging historic components while modernizing the structure for the 21st century. "After the fire, we were working with six to eight DC departments: the DC Department of Real Estate Services, Department of Health, Department of Transportation, and the local State Historic Preservation Office to name of few," notes Smith.

"When you are working on such a high visibility project, you don't want to let pressure get in the way of the big picture. The government factions were committed to the design and rehabilitation process 100 percent. Everyone wanted to see the South Hall back in operation," he adds. Project architect Tina Roach, AIA, agrees, "The mayor's office worked toward a goal of reopening the building as soon as possible." This included all the team's design work, fabrication of lost components and features, reconstruction of the building and moving vendors back into the space.

"We had a short time to do a very public piece of architecture, and there was an interested constituency who did not want their livelihood to be compromised," says architect Larry Barr, AIA, senior principal, Quinn Evans Architects. The city's first move was to engage members of the community and ask for their input as to what they would like the new market to be. "We wanted to maintain the beauty of the building but add modern amenities," says Eastern Market merchant Juan Jose Canales.

To keep vendors in business, the government built a temporary market next to Eastern Market during the restoration project," notes Smith. "We talked to the merchants and the level of detail to consider was quite complex – each stall had electric appliances, cutting machines, refrigeration – we needed to take all of this into account while rehabilitating the space."

"The first order at hand was to stabilize the [South Hall] roof, which was lost during the fire," notes project architect Thomas Jester, AIA. The roof had to be brought up to today's codes with thermal insulation and structural reinforcement to withstand snow loads. What did survive the flames were the original rolled- and cast-iron roof trusses, which sat on top of bearing plates on the brick walls. To retain the historic fabric of the roof, new steel roof trusses were made to match the original load-bearing trusses, right down to the cast-iron struts.

"Every other iron truss was replaced with a new steel truss," notes Jester. "These new steel trusses have the same geometry as the historic iron trusses, but are slightly larger in cross section. The new natural slate roof is a replication of the original vertical wood plank decking using tongue-and-groove members, adding thermal insulation with an integrated ventilation cavity, and slate roofing." The team also incorporated decorative corner chimneys back onto the building that had been damaged and lost over the years. SSQ of London supplied the "Del Carmon" slate and it was installed by Baker Roofing Co., Silver Spring, MD. Gutters and decorative metal are Follansbee's TCS II (Follansbee, WV).

"We found physical and historic documentation that there was originally a ventilating skylight along the roof ridge, which had been hidden for most of the 20th century," explains Jester. The firm wanted to bring back this lost architectural component for natural light as well as to return the building closer to its 1875 appearance.

An article of the time in the Evening Star states, "The frame of the roof would be wrought iron and a ventilating skylight of hammered glass will run along the ridge." The team reintroduced a continuous ridge vent and aluminum skylight based on the historic location and proportions. The insulated glass is translucent to limit the amount of UV lighting entering the hall, which in turn protects food items. Lighting design for the project was done by George Sexton Associates, Washington, DC, and historic replica lighting was supplied by Lightsmith of Lynchburg, VA.

While Jester worked on the design of the roof, Roach set to task re-creating lost architectural details such as windows, flooring, and decorative moldings. "Where South Hall windows were lost in the fire, the firm designed new single-paned windows, which are replicas of the original – but with protective tinted glazing," says Roach. Modern utilities such as fire suppression equipment, wheelchair ramps, HVAC system and restrooms were installed. The interior face of the walls regained their salmon-colored 1870s hue, but they're now backed with thermal insulation. The historic paint analysis was done by Matthew J. Mosca, Baltimore, MD. The window contractor was The Keystone Plus Construction Corp., Indianapolis, IN, and the work was done by The Craftsmen Group, Inc., Washington, DC, and Winchester Woodworking Inc. Winchester, VA.

Also contributing to the original historic appearance was the repair of the exterior. Here, the brownstone was repaired using "Vineyard Red" from Quarra Stone of Madison, WI.

Not only did the team preserve the building's historic integrity while incorporating modern amenities, but it also added sustainable design elements to the building – energy-efficient systems, storm-water control, and indoor air quality measures. The restored South Hall windows' upper sashes and the restored North Hall windows' lower sashes are operable to allow for ventilation, which offsets air-conditioning use during the mild months. "Red lights and green lights in the stalls let the vendors know when they can naturally ventilate their spaces," says Roach. "And the natural light that streams through the skylights reduces the need for electric lights."

The team wanted a seamless integration of universal design into the historic building. "It is a real balance between preservation and making the building more accessible," he says. "It's a long linear building (202x48 ft.) and we felt ramp access at both ends of the South Hall would be more practical." The access to the building is 9-in. above the sidewalk, so the design brings the ramp inside the building. "We lost a bit of square footage, but it works out in the end," notes Smith. The team also added access on the west and north sides of the building, enabling the project to exceed code requirements.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the market is once again restored to its intended purpose. Today, the South Hall is filled with a vast variety of staples: fresh-baked breads line metal sheets, local artisan cheeses rest on wooden boards, rows and rows of colorful vegetables fill baskets, and meats and fish chill in large glass cases. The effort to resurrect Eastern Market preserved a slice of DC's cultural heritage, the heart of the Capitol Hill community, while saving a historic building that is truly a treasure.  TB


Nancy E. Berry is the editor of New Old House magazine and the author of two books on design. She lives in Yarmouth Port, MA.


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