Loie M. Faulkner
October 10, 2016
The Market’s Clash: A Look at How Class Conflicts at the O Street Market
The O Street Market, located on the corner of 7th & O Streets in the heart of Shaw, is a ridiculously commanding building. Though the top of the distressed brick structure sits many feet below the high-rise apartment buildings surrounding it, the eye is still immediately drawn to The Market’s green pointed roofs and deep red arches. The Market was built in 1881 as a city-owned public market (Wikipedia). Now, the structure stands as one of three remaining Gothic Revival buildings in the District–the other two are also former public markets.
Across 7th Street, there is a relatively new recreational center; throughout my entire hour at the site, the dull roar of children playing bounced around in my head. Across O Street there is yet another apartment building, the lowest floor of which contains a nail salon, a barber shop, and a dry cleaners.
When observing the Market, I experienced a very strange juxtaposition in its sturdy, old, vast presence mixed with the steel and glass directly adjacent. While the Market building is essentially still original (some renovations have taken place over the years), it is now connected to apartment buildings, as well as an extension of the Giant Supermarket that is now housed in the structure. The Market feels simultaneously entirely out of place and right at home; it clearly has its place in the history and identity of Shaw, but the area directly surrounding it feel so different and new. The Market sticks out like a sore thumb, but still completely belongs, despite the constant development and gentrification all around its Gothic framework. One of the most apparent examples of this was the installation of a bike share kiosk right at the corner–a classic hipster neighborhood staple.
The building is very large; it dominates the entire street corner, and stretches half a block down both O and 7th Streets. The entrance was actually hard to find–although the building has a ridiculous number of doors, they all had signs saying “please use main entrance” and an arrow pointing all the way down to the corner of 6th. The entrance is actually through the new adjacent building, which eliminates whatever remaining open-air aspect to the Market might have previously been preserved. That said, it appears the Giant corporation has tried to preserve the aesthetic of the Market in the original building, since the only advertisement for the store is a single, inconspicuous, vertical sign on the very corner.
The sidewalks running along either side of the building are long and wide, and four or five very distinct groups of people walked down them. The two most common were middle-aged and older African-American men, usually in groups of two or three, and young, white couples; this seemed to scream gentrification so loud I had to laugh. It was also a great physical expression of the Washington Post article I looked at that spoke about Shaw residents’ perception of gentrification in the neighborhood (Schwartzman). Essentially, the Market and the surrounding areas appear to be acute examples of old meeting new, just like much of the entire city.