Washington D.C. Union Station
Union Station in Washington, D.C. opened on October 27, 1907. It is considered to be one of the finest examples of the Beaux-Arts style of architecture. Architect, Daniel Burnham designed the building to serve as a gateway for the capital city.
At the time it was built, the Station covered more ground than any other building in the United States and was the largest train station in the world. The total area occupied by the Station and the terminal zone was originally about 200 acres and included 75 miles of tracks. In fact, if put on its side, the Washington Monument could lay within the confines of the Station's concourse.
Union Station brought to the nation's capital a new grandeur that echoed the Chicago World's Fair and began Washington's monumental transformation. Seventy pounds of 22-karat gold leaf adorned the 96-foot barrel vaulted, coffered ceilings. The white granite and classic lines of Union Station set the stage for the next 40 years of Washington's classic architecture - reflected in the construction of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials and the Supreme Court building. The cost was monumental as well - $125 million for the station and its approaches.
In many ways, Union Station was a city within a city. At various times it employed a staff of over 5,000 people and provided such amenities as a bowling alley, mortuary, baker, butcher, YMCA, hotel, ice house, liquor store, Turkish baths, first-class restaurant, nursery, police station, and a silver-monogramming shop.
As train travel was the mode of transportation for even U.S. Presidents in the early 1900s, a Presidential Suite was added to Union Station (now B. Smith's Restaurant). In 1909, President Taft was the first President to use the room and over the years many dignitaries were officially welcomed here, including King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, King Albert I of Belgium, King Prajadipok of Siam, Queen Marie of Romania, and King Haasan II of Morocco. The last President to use the Presidential Suite was President Eisenhower, although, President George Bush did use it during an Inaugural Ball in 1989.
For half a century and through two world wars Union Station served Washington and the U.S. as a major center of transportation and the venue for many historic events. On April 14, 1945, a funeral train crossed the Potomac and backed into Union Station carrying the casket of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
On January 15, 1953 the Federal Express Train, out of control on Track 16, crashed through a newsstand and into the main concourse of Union Station. Miraculously, no one was killed. Although the floor collapsed under the locomotive, 96 hours later, at 8:00 a.m., an Eisenhower Inaugural special train rolled to a stop on the same track and the concourse showed little evidence of the accident.
The advent of air travel led to a decline in railroad passengers, and Union Station began to fall into disuse. In 1968, in anticipation of the Bicentennial, the decision was made to transform the Station into the "National Visitor Center." The ill-fated project opened on July 4, 1976 but failed to draw sufficient crowds to sustain its operation, and was closed in 1978.
While Congress debated the fate of Union Station, rain damage caused parts of the roof to cave in and toadstools began to grow inside. The entire building was finally sealed in 1981. Congress had to decide whether to save the building or bulldoze it. In 1981, Congress enacted the Union Station Redevelopment Act of 1981, which called on Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole to develop an ambitious plan for the commercial development of the station with the goal of making it financially self-sufficient. A unique public/private partnership was formed to faithfully restore the building to its original state and create a viable mixed use transportation center.
Following three years of renovation at a cost of $160 million, Union Station reopened on September 29, 1988 - restored to its former glory. This living and working museum was redeveloped as a bustling retail center and intermodal transportation facility with over 130 unique shops and restaurants.
Today, Union Station continues to make history as the most visited destination in the nation's Capitol with over 32 million visitors a year. World-class exhibitions and international cultural events are hosted here for the public to enjoy. Private special events such as the Presidential Inaugural Ball and citywide galas are celebrated in the grand halls. Even today, U.S. Presidents still patronize Union Station.