Housing Complex

City Wants to Preserve Ramshackle Fish Market Shed in Redevelopment

Sorry for using a grainy picture from the application.

If you've pored through the recently-submitted second-stage zoning application for the massive redevelopment of the Southwest Waterfront—hey, some of us do that for fun—you won't have seen anything regarding a key component of the plan: The Maine Avenue Fish Market, a collection of seafood wholesalers and eateries tucked underneath I-395.

That's because the Fish Market redesign isn't ready yet, and will move forward outside the rest of the planned unit development process. The nearly 200-year-old Fish Market is an interesting beast, having moved from its original location during the redevelopment of Southwest in the 1960s. It's now owned by the District, which leases space to purveyors on land and on the barges that support the back part of the market. The Wharf developers have submitted a plan to the city, and will assume a master ground lease once that's squared away.

I don't have specifics on that plan yet, except for one thing: The currently unused Oyster Shucking Shed and Lunch Room, a pair of ramshackle buildings surrounded by vending machines and ice boxes, will become a "centerpiece," according to a spokesman for the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. They've submitted an historic landmark application for the seemingly nondescript structures, which were built in 1916 and are now literally falling apart inside. They retain enough integrity, though, to "serve as reminders of the Southwest Waterfront's historic commercial and maritime industries."

According to the application, the Lunch Room was home to the Cadillac Restaurant from the 1940s through the 1970s, while fish dealers used the shucking shed to prepare their catch for sale. The Army Corps of Engineers drew up plans to renovate the buildings with new public toilets in 2005, but never followed through. The Virgo fish cleaning business occupied it until 2010, but has moved out, leaving the building vacant.

If it's preserved, the building will be one of the few historic elements in the whole development, since urban renewal wiped away most of what existed in the early 1960s.

  • r. u. kidding

    Phyllis, I grew up here and I like this building.

  • http://www.streetsofwashington.com John DeFerrari

    With such little left of the old Southwest, it would be a shame to obliterate even the few vestiges that remain. These structures can clearly be reused and are small enough that they'e not going to interfere with anybody's development plans. It's a credit to the city and to HPO that an effort is being made to save them.

  • Jax

    It's "pored", not "poured" in this usage (opening sentence of the article)

  • citymom92

    I disagree with the assessment that these buildings are "nondescript" in fact, I think they tell us a lot about the character and charm that the Fish Market used to have until the planners of the 60s razed everything. I'm glad that the planners of the 10s are going to keep them and make them a centerpiece of the new development.

  • rt

    I do love this fish market. It's quintessential DC, whether transplants know about it or not.

  • Cara Shockley ANC6D02

    The fish market is a key part of my childhood memories. It links back to the historic purpose of the Southwest region which was moving goods. Now the only goods that come by river are tourists and fish, but the stone that build the Capitol came in through Southwest and was moved up the creeks and canals to the building sites.

    Southwest is dynamic. We insisted on keeping the only link we have to our working past. The Wharf project respects that, and I appreciate that they do.

  • Lydia DePillis

    @Jax - Fair enough.

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  • http://buyersagent.com buyersagentdotcom

    The Fish Market is incredible. Drop by on a Saturday evening and grab a wonderful picnic to go. Delicious!

  • Diane dicobra

    The fish market actually dates from 1805 so it is 210 years old.