Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Union Station (Washington, DC)
It is one of the busiest and best-known places in of Washington DC, visited by 20 million people each year. The terminal is served by Amtrak, commuter railroads, and the Washington Metro transit system.
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 appears 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 Capital's role.
Architecture and construction
Architect Daniel Burnham, assisted by Peirce Anderson , used a number of techniques to convey this message: neoclassical elements combined the Roman architecture of the triumphal arch with the great vaulted spaces of Imperial Roman public baths, such as the Baths of Diocletian in Rome; prominent siting at the intersection of two of Pierre L'Enfant's avenues, with an orientation that faced the United States Capitol, just five blocks away; a massive scale, including a facade stretching more than 600' and a waiting room ceiling 96' above the floor; stone inscriptions and allegorical sculpture (a form of "architecture parlante") in the Beaux-Arts manner; expensive materials such as marble, gold leaf, and white granite from a previously unused quarry.
Above the main cornice of the central block stand colossal statues designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens whose iconography expresses the confident enthusiasm of the "American Renaissance" movement: Fire, Electricity, Freedom, Imagination, Agriculture and Mechanics. The substitution of Agriculture for Commerce in a railroad station iconography vividly conveys the power of a specifically American lobbying bloc.
Burnham drew upon a well-developed tradition of treating the entrance to a major railroad terminal as a triumphal arch, a tradition that had been initiated in London at Euston Station. He linked the monumental end pavilions with long arcades enclosing loggias in a long series of bays that were vaulted with the lightweight fireproof Guastavino tiles favored by American Beaux-Arts architects. The final aspect owed a great deal to the Court of Honor at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, where Burnham had been coordinating architect. The setting of Union Station's facade at the focus of converging avenues in a park-like green setting is one of the few executed achievements of the "City Beautiful" movement: elite city planning that was based on the "goosefoot" (patte d'oie) of formal garden plans made by Baroque designers like André Le Notre. The radiating avenues can been seen in the satellite view (illustration, left).
The architectural critics detested the imperial bombast of the Beaux-Arts style in all its manifestations.
Within the station was a full range of dining rooms and other services, including barber shops and a mortuary. Union Station was equipped with a presidential suite (now occupied by a restaurant) that was prompted by the recent assassinations of Presidents James Garfield and William McKinley. Garfield had actually been shot at Washington's Baltimore and Potomac Railroad station July 2, 1881, while he waited for a train.
Union Station opened on October 27, 1907 with the arrival of a B&O passenger train from Pittsburgh. The terminal quickly became the portal to the Capital. At no time was it busier than during World War II, when as many as 200,000 people passed through in a single day.
The wreck of the 16-car Federal Express at Union Station, the morning of January 15, 1953 (see link) was the most spectacular modern runaway passenger train wreck, and inspired the action film Silver Streak. When brake couplings failed, the train skidded for two miles and passed right through the stationmaster's office at the end of track 16 at a speed estimated at 30 to 50 mph, demolishing it, but no one was killed.
For most of its existence, Union Station served as a hub, with service of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Pennsylvania Railroad, and Southern Railway. The Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad provided a link to Richmond, Virginia, about 100 miles to the south, where major north-south lines of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and Seaboard Air Line Railroad provided service to the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.
Decline and restoration
Like the fate which befell most American railroad stations, the financial and physical condition of Union Station deteriorated after World War II as train travel declined and federal funding created a competitive interstate highway system. In the 1960s and 1970s the station was neglected.
The Federal government tried unsuccessfully to make the disused Union Station into a visitor center, opened for the Bicentennial on July 4, 1976, but visitors no longer arrived through its portals and they ignored it.
The station reopened in its present form in 1988 with shops and an AMC movie theater occupying the original building, with a large food court on the lower level, and a new Amtrak terminal at the back. In 1994, the passenger concourse was renamed to honor retired Amtrak president W. Graham Claytor Jr. of Roanoke, Virginia, who served for 11 years, from 1982 until 1993.
Today Union Station is again one of Washington's busiest and best-known places, visited by 20 million people each year. The terminal is located at the southern end of the Northeast Corridor, an electrified rail line extending north through major cities to Boston, Massachusetts.
Passenger services include Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express, Amtrak's intercity trains, the MARC and VRE commuter railways, linking Washington to Maryland and Virginia, respectively; and the Washington Metro Red Line.
Amtrak owns and maintains the building and its main headquarters are located here.
Union Station in Movies and Television
Washington's Union Station has featured as a location in numerous movies, not all as memorable as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Others include Hannibal, The Recruit, Along Came a Spider, Collateral Damage and The Wedding Crashers.
Several episodes of the television series The West Wing have used Union Station as a setting.
List of Union Stations.
- Union Station
- Renovation of Union Station
- National Railway Historical Society: brief history
- NIHS Wreck of the Federal Express
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