The Maine Avenue Fish Market is one of the few remaining open air seafood markets in the United States. This vibrant market, in the shadows of Interstate 395, is situated along the banks of the Washington Channel in Southwest Washington, DC.
After the civil war, Southwest DC was developed to provide inexpensive housing for the poor. Immigrants from Europe lived to the west of Fourth Street while African Americans, freed slaves, lived to the east. The Southwest neighborhood continued to grow but in the 1920’s conditions began to decline. By the 1950’s, due to substandard housing and overcrowding, federal officials deemed it a problem area. Construction of the Southeast/Southwest Freeway began and many older structures were demolished. Thousands of residents, primarily African Americans, where displaced. The original 19th-century Municipal Fish Market building was razed in the 1960’s. The fish vendors had a clause in their leases which allowed them to stay for 99 years so the markets moved to boats. Now, the Fish Market is a collection of floating barges permanently docked along a concrete pier. The seafood, once shipped in by boat, is now delivered by refrigerated trucks. The Main Avenue Fish Market dates back to 1805 and is the oldest continuously operated fish market in the United States.
With these images, I’m simply documenting how things looked in the summer of 2015. Although this is a fish market I didn’t set out to take pictures of crabs, shrimp, flounder or other assorted seafood. My interest is in the people, their attitude, and the market's unique character.
Once again, change is coming to this Southwest neighborhood. Construction of new apartments, condominiums, office buildings, hotels, retail space, and marina boat slips has begun. The sound of pile drivers fills the air, cranes loom in the summer sky, and a large billboard advertises the inevitable future. This $457 million, 19 acre, mega mixed-use development is being called the Wharf. The developers couldn't think of a more generic name.
“The Wharf will create Washington’s next great neighborhood … and will be a world-class destination in our nation’s capital.”
-- David Brainerd, Managing Director, Madison Marquette
With the emergence of this new and familiar place, comfortable and complete, I'm afraid the character of the fish market will be lost. The retail stores signing on are the same large chain stores found in other parts of the city. Old black and white photographs, celebrating the early years, will decorate the walls of this reinvented neighborhood. A giant leap into the future with only superficial traces of the past.
I suppose these changes are good for the neighborhood and city. Like a cup of Starbucks coffee, there is comfort in the familiar and known. As we stir a little cream into our coffee the world goes around and around.