To Market!

Today I visited the District’s newly opened market – Union Market, in the Northeast quadrant off of Florida Ave.

The newly opened Union Market

It’s a beautiful new space with a great mix of vendors so far, and a welcome addition to the District’s food scene.

It might not be as well known yet as Capitol Hill’s historic Eastern Market, but it has a rich history all its own.

Union Market is a descendant of what was once D.C.’s largest and most famous covered market – Center Market.

In the late 1800s, this market was truly central to the life of the city, and situated half way between the White House and the Capitol on Pennsylvania Avenue.

So how come you’ve probably never heard of it?

It was torn down in 1931 to make way for the National Archives – a loss for the District’s history in favor of preserving the nation’s history.

The Streets of Washington blog has a great history of Center Market, which opened in 1872 – an enormous, red brick Victorian and German Renaissance Revival building with more than 57,000 square feet, and sporting  several towers, a courtyard, and stalls for nearly 700 vendors.

A postcard of Center Market, where the National Archives now stands.

It was a city landmark, sitting on a site that had served as a market since the very beginning of the city in 1801, and designed by District architect and German immigrant Adolf  Cluss. He was also the designer of Eastern Market, the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries building, and countless other structures in D.C.

The market was eventually closed and torn down in 1931, replaced with the neoclassical, marble National Archives –  part of the transformation of Pennsylvania Avenue from the city’s Main Street into the capital’s most stately promenade.

The vendors all dispersed – with many going to a new “Center Market” at 5th and K Street, NW, or other existing or new sites around the city – including the new Union Market Terminal at 4th and Florida Ave., NE.

The outdoor market was open throughout the week with space for 700 vendors – and a large indoor market was added in 1967 after the District outlawed the sale of meat and eggs outdoors. The whole market complex suffered during the 1980s and 90s as the neighborhood declined and many of the vendors moved out into the suburbs.

It catered more to restaurants and wholesalers, and was an intriguing place to visit for those in the know – but certainly not a tourist destination or a place to eat.

Homemade sodas and duck dogs courtesy of Rogue 24.

Today’s indoor market occupies the same site, and houses fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and fish, eggs and dairy – as well as  prepared foods from District and local artisans, like Peregrine Coffee, Rappahannock Oyster Co., Trickling Springs Creamery, and Rogue 24 – with many more to follow.

There are also connections to the market’s past – A. Litteri is an Italian grocer that has been in D.C. since 1926, and has a stall in the new Union Market in addition to its older store just a block away.

If today’s crowds were any indication, Union Market should soon join Eastern Market as a showcase for the District’s food and arts for  locals and tourists. And it doesn’t hurt that there’s ample parking and a metro stop nearby.

Just make sure that you go there hungry – because you certainly won’t leave that way.

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