Royal Farms from 2007 Google Maps Street View
The buildings that house the Rock Creek Market today were built in 1920 by H.R. Howenstein to plans of architect L.T. Williams. Originally, 642-646 Rock Creek Church Rd. were part of Kennedy Bros. plans to build up their subdivision of Princeton Heights. While they applied for building permits for these three lots in 1909, the homes they planned were never constructed.
Howenstein purchased these lots from Kennedy Brothers and built a row of three commercial spaces at a listed value of $2,500 per section.
Aftermath of Royal Farms fire 8/9/2008, photographed by Ted Scheinman of the Washington City Paper
While the fire that gutted the building in the wee hours of the morning on August 9, 2008, is still relatively fresh in residents minds, it was not the first time the building had been the victim of flames. The June 10, 1933, Washington Post lists a fire that occurred at the market due to a short circuit.
Back in 1967, the grocery store that was at this location was known as Baron’s grocery store when it was owned by Louis Baron. Sadly, on January 21, 1967, Mr. Baron and his wife were held up outside the market.
After closing the store about 9 p.m. in the evening, Mr. Baron was sitting in his car with his wife when two men came to the car, put a gun to his head, and demanded money. The robbers made off with $240 and some personal papers that evening. In the years to follow, robberies of this type would become all too common throughout the District.
By 1979, the Washington Post again reported that many of the “mom and pop” corner grocery stores that had been ravaged by the 1968 riots were undergoing a rebirth as Korean immigrants began to own and operate them. What was then Royal Farms was among them, being operated by Lee Chun Hee — a former pharmacist — and her husband Lee Eung Sub — a former engineer.
Lee Chung Hee waits on Henry Jones at the Royal Farms Market, 1979. By Larry Morris, the Washington Post
Former Royal Farms prior to reconstruction, February 2009
The fire of August 2008 again changed the character of the corner store. After the fire, owner Shewangezaw Tilahun decided to rebuild the store and run it himself. Construction began around February 2, 2009 and after a few delays, Rock Creek Market was open for business on September 22, 2009.
As you can see from the photographs, there has definitely been a change for the better in the last few years.
Rock Creek Market, December 2009