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Center Market (1864) (109)

Pennsylvania Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets, NW
Partially constructed in 1864; demolished by order of Congress, 1865

Improving Washington's Center Market, originally built in 1802, had been discussed for many years. Though located at Pennsylvania Avenue, a prestigious location between the White House and the Capitol, by 1850, the ramshackle collection of frame buildings had long been an eyesore and threat to public health. By early 1863, Mayor Richard Wallach called on Cluss and Kammerhueber to design a brick structure facing Pennsylvania Avenue that would provide a link between two frame buildings that faced 7th and 9th streets.

The architects designed a two-story building with stalls on the first level and four large galleries on the second, and a large, 60 square-foot open space in the second floor that allowed light and air to reach the first floor. At 92 by 106 feet and gables at 75 feet, the new building would be a substantial addition to the Market Space complex and to the Pennsylvania Avenue streetscape.

Though the Market House was well under way by early June 1864, members of the House of Representatives District Committee and then the entire House of Representatives voted unanimously to stop construction of the market building. Their resolution noted that Congress had not authorized the building that was located on a federal reservation (though other market buildings already existed there) and they did not want to block the view of the Smithsonian Institution or the flow of air across the Mall. The reasons put forward by the House disguised a local grab for power and profit that the Evening Star, published by Mayor Wallach's brother was happy to explain. "Interested parties who have axes to grind" favored a private market, "if they can get rid of the Center Market." The new building would have made it much more difficult to argue that the city government could not successfully build and operate a market house that satisfied high standards for public health. The newspaper predicted that a private market house would raise consumer costs by 15-25 per cent.

Cluss and Kammerhueber had no part in the brief standoff between the city and Congress. The District of Columbia's constitutional status was much like a colony, and the city was forced to tear down the walls of the building which had reached second story height. Enough had been built, however to establish what a modern market building would look like. Within five years, a rising group of businessmen-politicians led by Alexander R. Shepherd, received a Congressional charter to build a private market on the same ground. Cluss became their architect in 1870 and designed the five-building complex also called Center Market (see no. 20).




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