East Hall ClosedTwo years and $22 million later, the historic South Hall at Eastern Market is just about ready to reopen.  In fact, the temporary East Hall, where long-time vendors like Bowers’ Fancy Dairy Products, Canales Meats and Market Lunch have been operating since August of 2007, closed its doors at 4 PM on Sunday and the tenants have begun the process of transferring their equipment, their supplies and their inventories out.

Laid Stone on 7thLast month, the Mayor’s office announced that the Market would officially reopen on Friday, June 26th with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:30 AM.  The next day, June 27th, will be an “all day celebration with music, face painting, food, entertainment and the newly remodeled historic market!”  With those dates quickly approaching, we decided to poke our heads into the South Hall to see how things are progressing.

Whose CoolersAs we headed down 7th Street from North Carolina Avenue, we were more than a little impressed with the renovated streetscape outside the Market.  Cobblestones in alternating colors give the block a feel that’s much more like a plaza or a pedestrian zone than a car-friendly thoroughfare.  It should come as no surprise that the city is pushing to keep 7th Street closed to vehicles on weekends (a program that has been in place since the Market reopened post-fire, and one that has plenty of adherents and critics).

From the outside, little has changed about Eastern Market.  The brick structure was largely unscathed by the fire, so the crews were able to address some minor cosmetic repairs without having to recreate the historic facade from scratch.  Inside, though, quite a few things have been updated and replaced.  The result is a modernized structure that retains its authentic character.

More photos of the work in its final stages after the jump.

New RoofOnce we got inside, we immediately turned our attention to the new roof.  Dual lines of skylights flooded the interior with natural mid-day light, despite the overcast day.  The Mayor’s office is quick to point out the energy savings that this arrangement will provide, but we’re just happy that it reinforces the airy feel of the space instead of contributing to claustrophobia.

South Hall from AboveIf you remember Eastern Market as it was before the fire, you probably remember some of the more common complaints about the space: it was too damn hot, and the bathrooms weren’t exactly inviting.  Thankfully, the city has taken advantage of the opportunity provided by this renovation to address both.  Like the temporary East Hall, Eastern Market will now be air-conditioned (which has to offset some of those energy savings…) and the restroom facilities have been improved (there are even separate restrooms for men and women now).

Whose CoolersLooking around, it was clear that the market vendors were still early in the process of moving their equipment across from the East Hall.  Refrigerators, freezers and display cases are laid out in roughly the arrangement that they will occupy when the ribbon is cut on the 26th.  But some haven’t made the transition yet, and others have tags indicating necessary work before they can be put into service.  It will take the rest of this week and the better part of next to ensure that everything is moved, cleaned and ready to go, which was the primary reason behind the decision to shutter the East Hall so far in advance of the ribbon-cutting.

Final StagesWhen asking about the choice of wall-coloring, which appeared to be a shade of peach or pink, we were told that the color was actually the original color of the walls in the Market.  Far be it from them to mess with history, so the rosy paint job stayed.

This weekend, you won’t be able to buy anything from the East Hall vendors (still making the move), but you’ll probably be able to sneak a peek for yourself if you just poke your head in and ask politely.  And the vendors who make up “the line” at Eastern Market – whether selling food, clothing or artwork – will still be around to sell their farm-fresh vegetables from down south.

Open for BusinessWe’re eagerly counting the days until we can step into South Hall and see it come to life with old friends, new friends and total strangers alike.  And if we’re lucky we’ll soon be seeing a sign like this one that has been hanging up on the corner of 7th and D Streets, SE