In 1901, the U.S. Senate Park Commission invited master American architect and planner Daniel Burnham to orchestrate a sweeping urban plan for Washington, D.C and make it in a setting that was both practical and grandly befitting a world capital.
Burnham, remembered for his work constructing the stunning “White City” in Chicago for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, would help create the colossal architecture now associated with the National Mall. He designed Union Station to remove the rail lines from the center of the Mall, which had become a tangle of paths, gardens, and buildings, and brought two major railroads—the Pennsylvania and the Baltimore and Ohio—into one terminal.
The white granite and classic lines of Union Station set the mode for Washington's classic monumental architecture for the next 40 years through the construction of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Federal Triangle, the Supreme Court Building, and the National Gallery of Art.
Ionic columns and chiseled inscriptions mark Union Station's neoclassical facade which includes a soaring vaulted entryway and heroic statuary on its 600-foot length. Just above the main cornice of the central block are six statues representing fire (Prometheus), electricity (Thales), freedom and justice (Themis), imagination and inspiration (Apollo), agriculture (Ceres), and mechanics (Archimedes).
Completed in 1908, the Beaux-Arts national historical landmark was constructed with bones of modern concrete and steel. The 96-foot high coffered Main Hall ceiling shimmers with gold leaf, reflecting light onto the expanse of its marble floor through spacious skylights and windows, while 26 centurion statues stand at attention overhead.
When the building first opened, it also featured a private, secure waiting room for the president and his visitors, as well as a public dining room with walls covered in murals modeled after those excavated at the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
I captured the following images during a behind-the-scenes tour for winners of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Instagram contest. The Trust has designated Union Station as part of their National Treasures program.
Fun Fact | On January 15, 1953, an out of control train on Track 16, crashed through the staionmaster's office, a newsstand, and into the main concourse of the station. Miraculously, no one was killed. A tower crew member, located about a mile from Union Station, was able to warn the stationmaster that a runaway train was on its way. The concourse was cleared in just two and a half minutes. Within hours, the marble floor of the station collapsed under the weight of the locomotive. Ninety-six hours later, President-elect Dwight Eisenhower's inaugural train rolled to a stop on Track 16 into a concourse that showed little evidence of the accident.
Photos by Cary Knox
Photos by Cary Knox