Built in 1908, Union Station grandiosely reflects its inspiration—the Baths of Diocletian in Rome. Envisioning the most splendid terminal in the country, architect Daniel "make no small plans" Burnham lavished the building with amenities, including a nursery, a swimming pool and even a mortuary for defunct out-of-towners. The Main Hall is a huge rectangular space, with a 96ft barrel-vaulted ceiling and a balcony with 36 sculptures of Roman legionnaires.
The station languished when rail travel declined. The President’s Room, reserved for chief executives welcoming incoming dignitaries such as King George VI and Haile Selassie, is now a restaurant. In 1953, a decidedly non-stop express train bound for Eisenhower’s inauguration smashed into the crowded concourse; incredibly, nobody was killed. Two decades later, a deliberate but also disastrous hole was sunk in the Great Hall to make way for the multi-screen video set-up of an ill-conceived (and short-lived) visitors’ center. At this stage, despite its lingering grandeur, the station seemed doomed to the wrecking ball.
But in 1988 a painstaking $165-million restoration program was begun, during which time entertainment came into play. There are now shops, amusements and eateries of all sorts, and even a multi-screen cinema. Rents are high and some of the shops have failed, but successors always seem to come along and more sales per square foot move through the shops here than any other DC mall. It’s easy to forget that the marble and gilt palace’s main function is still as a railway station—with lines to New York, Chicago, Miami and New Orleans, as well as the suburbs—though the crowds at rush hour will bring you back to your senses.
|Venue name:||Union Station|
40 Massachusetts Avenue, NE
|Cross street:||at Delaware Avenue|
|Opening hours:||Station 24hrs daily. Shops 10am–9pm Mon–Sat; noon–6pm Sun|
|Transport:||Union Station Metro|