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:

This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs

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.

This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs

Tiffany Baxendell Bridge is an Internet enthusiast and an incurable smartass. When not heckling the neighborhood political scene on Twitter, she can be found goofing off with her ukulele, Bollywood dancing, or obsessing about cult TV. She is That Woman With the Baby In the Bar.

Tiffany lives in Brookland with her husband Tom, son Charlie, and two high-maintenance cats. Read why Tiffany loves DC.

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