D.C.'s Historic Eastern Market Reopens After Fire
LIANE HANSEN, host:
Washington, D.C.'s Eastern Market is open again, two years after its historic building was gutted by fire. It was built in 1873 as part of a citywide public food market system and is the last one still in operation. WEEKEND EDITION food commentator Bonny Wolf lives a block from the market. She has these reflections on the reopening.
(Soundbite of market)
Unidentified Man #1: How are you?
Unidentified Man #2: What's going on, man?
BONNY WOLF: You don't usually see this much smiling in Washington, but my neighborhood is giddy - we have our market back and it is beautiful. We live within sight of the U.S. Capitol, the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court - all important places - but it's the Eastern Market that made hundreds cheer when Mayor Adrian Fenty cut the ribbon to reopen the building.
Capitol Hill residents are passionate about the market. In our village within the city, it is the village square. It's where you run when you realize you forgot to plan dinner. It's where you meet friends at market lunch for a quick crab cake. And it's where, for a few minutes, you can leave behind the stresses of Washington's type-A lifestyle. Walk into the market and into a sweeter time.
(Soundbite of market)
WOLF: How much can I give you?
Unidentified Man #3: That's okay. We'll rip you off the next time you're in here.
(Soundbite of laughter)
WOLF: Thank you very much.
After the fire(ph), I went to a supermarket meat department looking for a special cut of meat. A nice man told me he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. We don't cut the meat, he said, we get it prepackaged. At the Eastern Market, Bill Glasgow not only cuts a pocket in a veal breast for me, but asks later how the recipe turned out.
Angie Brunson tells me she saved me some peonies. Tommy Glasgow at Market Lunch yells out that he has soft shell crabs today.
Mr. TOMMY GLASGOW: Great crab cakes. We got crab meat coming up from Louisiana.
Mr. GLASGOW: Yes. Don't say anything bad about Louisiana, okay?
WOLF: I won't, I won't.
The recent happy homecoming was a stark contrast to the chilly April morning two years ago when we watched the market burn. The sounds then were of sirens and people crying. Within a few days, the Capitol Hill Community Foundation was deluged with unsolicited contributions - about $200,000. Eventually, nearly half a million dollars was donated to help the market's merchants.
The market has been threatened before by changing demographics and the modern supermarket. The city wanted to close it down more than once, but neighbors and merchants wouldn't have it. The city's other markets are gone, but the Eastern Market keeps on ticking.
Although beloved, the market was a wreck, in need of major repairs. The Washington Post called it a high-functioning basket case. Then, as one public official said, the devil stepped in and burned the market down. Stop gap renovations plans were scraped and the market was rebuilt to match its original 1873 design.
Skylights were uncovered and the market is flooded with light. Tinted windows protect perishable food. The walls are painted their original soft salmon color. There's modern heating and cooling. There are even respectable bathrooms. It looks like the same market, just clean and fresh.
The day the market reopened, one of my neighbors said he saw the same looks on people's faces as when he walked to the mall the day of President Obama's inauguration. What he saw he said was deep joy.
HANSEN: Bonny Wolf edits NPR's Kitchen Window and is the author of "Talking with my Mouth Full."
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