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Then and Now: The O Street Market

Northern MarketNorthern Market aka O Street Market
Click on an image to enlarge.

Then (left): The Northern Market, aka the O Street Market, photographed in August, 1959. Image from Historical Society of Washington, DC, #PR 0011B.

Now (right): A shell of its former self since its roof collapsed in 2003.

Located on the northwest corner of 7th and O Streets, NW, the Northern Market dates to 1881, when a group of displaced vendors selected the land after Boss Shepherd demolished the original Northern Liberty Market in 1872.

By July 21, 1881, the market—which ran 192 feet on 7th street and 90 feet along O Street—had foundations laid and the walls five feet above the ground. The building was scheduled to be ready for rafters and roofing by August 1. When completed, the market was estimated to cost $19,200 with land costing $23,000. Land values in the immediate area began to rise as the new market was being constructed.

Serving the community solidly from the time of its opening, it gradually fell into disrepair. Seemingly without major structural problems, the building was emptied of tenants several months prior to construction in anticipation of its transformation into an upscale shopping center when the unthinkable happened.

Following a weekend blizzard, the roof gave way under the weight of snow on February 18, 2003. On the brink of a major renovation, the company leading that renovation was confident that work on the building would continue. Despite this, the hollow shell of the market still sits in limbo, with development hinging on financing. Facing yet another hurdle, last week the O Street Market was among listed projects with approved funding that may have funds diverted to finance the new Convention Center Hotel planned for the city, though officials subsequently announced a tentative deal to avoid diverting funds.

Kent Boese posts items of historic interest primarily within the District. He's worked in libraries since 1994, both federal and law, and currently works on K Street. He's been an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner serving the northern Columbia Heights and Park View neighborhoods since 2011 (ANC 1A), and is the force behind the blog Park View, D.C.


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This building should take priority considering what an asset and anchor Eastern Market is for it's neighborhood, to say nothing about preservation issues. Thanks for bringing attention to this project.

by Thayer-D on Jun 24, 2009 3:57 pm • linkreport

couldn't agree more with Thayer-D. The city would be wise to move on this much quicker than they have. Eastern Market burnt down and was rebuilt in a fraction of the time it's taken to even begin to move on O street. People can read through the lines pretty easily with regards to DC's priorities. O street being across the street from the projects vice million dollar homes is something that should never be discounted. Shaw residents have heard a lot of promises over the years only to be repeatedly disappointed in the follow through.

by JTS on Jun 24, 2009 4:13 pm • linkreport

Plus, the faster things get done on this, the faster we change the pattern of that godawful suburban-style Giant just behind the market. That place is a) an eyesore and b) a terrible grocery store.

by Dan Miller on Jun 24, 2009 4:25 pm • linkreport

Totally agree with all of the above comments.

I believe that Cluss designed O Street market
he also designed Eastern Market

by w on Jun 24, 2009 4:53 pm • linkreport

I'm going to have to agree with everyone else here as well. I'm excited to walk over to Eastern Market on Friday to get some lunch and admire all the hard work the city's done to restore Eastern Market, but it saddens me that the District hasn't put nearly as much energy into the restoration of O Street. Then again, maybe the feet dragging will let us reconsider the awful "Supermarket cum Condo" scheme proposed for O Street. Honestly DC, don't put a new Giant in there when there's a strong trend towards locally grown, sustainable food production. Expand the old-school, successful Eastern Market model to include O Street.

by merarch on Jun 24, 2009 11:54 pm • linkreport

the comparrison to the rebuilding of eastern market is weak.

does anyone think that there may be more support from citizens at large for the rebuilding of eastern market?
i'd put money down that there is.

people were upset about it all over the city. eastern market is part of life on the hill.
even people in the suburbs were upset.

how many are upset about o street?
i recall a few conversations in 2003, but no one was heartbroken. maybe developers were. but just regular people? not so much. people werent invested.

to me its always been a wasted opportunity and at best, a potential. not a thriving part of our city's culture in my time here.

you want the city to move? we need a bigger movement from residents. raise some money, get the word out. hit the streets with pamphlets.
get people asking, "when the hell is this going to be worked on?".

by dc residente on Jun 25, 2009 4:46 pm • linkreport

dc residente-

No doubt that there is more public support at large for eastern market (and Georgetown Library) than there is for O street. The communities with the most activism and the best political connections got the quickest attention.

Regardless, O Street Market and Eastern Market started out with the same vision, and I believe O Street's got a ton of potential now that the neighborhood isn't a total afterthought for people in the DC metro area.

If you want something done with O street, send an e-mail to Wells and Fenty and get the community involved.

by merarch on Jun 25, 2009 9:18 pm • linkreport

My grandfather used to take me to O street market every saturday when i was a child--and it was like visiting another little town-- i loved it so much; i think because it is in the heart of the shaw area and low rent housing as well is why they have not 'rushed' to rebuild... eastern mkt has a different crowd and sad to say priorities in DC have not changed toward blacks/black neighborhoods--like the O street area... very sad but no one who is a DC native is in the least surprised. They are now renovating the Howard Theatre--yes, once again, .. hope they continue to have the shows there that the theatre is known for and not a lot of artsy fartsy junk --the 9:30 Club is for that crowd and keep it over there and give us back O St Mkt and Howard much so much has been lost. The only good thing we native Washingtonians love is how the yuppies/builders/ran all the low rent folks out of our town and built up condos that no one could afford (nice they gave us first offer 400,k--lol) that they themselves now have to come back in the city and pay thru the nose to live in the very places they were instrumental in tearing down..serves them right!

by Redtopp on Jun 29, 2009 10:53 am • linkreport

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