Photo courtesy of the DC SHPO
Union Station was crucial to the development of modern Washington. When the Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio Railroads announced in 1901 that they planned to build a new terminal, people in the city celebrated for two reasons. The decision meant, first of all, that the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) would soon remove its tracks and terminal from the Mall. Though changes there appeared only gradually, the PRR’s move allowed the creation of the Mall as it appeared today. Second, the plans to bring all the city’s railroads under one roof promised that Washington would finally have a station large enough to handle large crowds and impressive enough to reflect the growing importance of the United States. Architects Daniel Burnham and Peirce Anderson used a number of techniques to convey this message: neoclassical elements that connected Washington to Athens and Rome; a massive scale, including a facade stretching more than 600′ and a waiting room ceiling 96′ above the floor; expensive materials such as marble, gold leaf, and granite from a previously unused quarry; and an orientation that faced their building towards the US Capitol, just five blocks away.
Looking north from the Capitol down N. Capitol St., showing Union Station, GPO, city post office and Russell Senate Office Building, c. 1915.
Historical Society of Washington, DC
The terminal quickly became a center of Washington life, but at no time was it busier than during World War II, when as many as 200,000 people passed through in a single day. Like most American railroad stations, its financial and physical condition deteriorated after the war as train travel declined. In the 1960s and 1970s the Federal government tried unsuccessfully to make it into a visitor center. The station reopened in its present form in 1988 with shops, restaurants, and movie theaters occupying the original building, and a new Amtrak terminal at the back. Today Union Station is again one of Washington’s busiest and best-known places, visited by 20 million people each year.
Union Station is located at 50 Massachusetts Ave., NE. Store hours are Monday through Saturday 10:00 am to 9:00 pm and Sunday from noon to 6:00 pm. The shops at Union Station are closed New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. For more information call 202/289-1908. Metro stop: Union Station