A Beaux Arts icon designed by renowned architect Daniel Burnham, Union Station is many things to the 100,000 people who use it daily. First and foremost, the station is a busy transit hub serving fourteen types of transportation, from passenger trains and inter-city buses, to bike sharing services and DC’s subway system. Just two blocks from the U.S. Capitol, Union Station is also one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations and a vital community anchor.
Today, ambitious plans are in the works to transform Union Station: the rail concourse will be dramatically expanded in anticipation of significant increases in ridership; the station's 214,000-square-foot shopping mall will be upgraded; and a huge mixed-use development over the station's rail yard is in the planning stages.
In the past, incompatible changes and avoidable neglect have harmed Union Station. However, if ongoing expansion and modernization are handled well – and historic preservation becomes a top priority for planners – future development will complement the landmark while preserving its integrity for future generations. With careful planning, Union Station can become an international model for historic preservation, multi-modal transportation, and transit-oriented development.
- Preserve the 105-year-old train station.
- Ensure the historic station is protected while it is transformed to serve twenty-first century transit passengers.
Ways To Help
Donate to our campaign to save Union Station.
Tell us why Union Station matters to you.
If you have traveled through Union Station recently, you might have noticed the massive scaffolding constructed in a portion of the Main Hall and seen various folks with hardhats scurrying up and down its considerable frame. The restoration of the ceiling, undertaken by Union Station Redevelopment Corporation and supported in part by a grant from American Express Company, has hit its stride and as the first completed section is revealed.
Let Rob Nieweg, Project Manager, take you through the process of restoring this National Treasure.
Washington D.C.’s Union Station is a 1907 architectural icon and an engineering marvel which is used by almost 100,000 travelers every day. The station is a gateway to our nation’s capital, a vital part of the District’s urban fabric, and a National Treasure. That’s why the National Trust and its allies are advocating to ensure that this historic place is carefully preserved and protected while growing to serve modern transportation needs.
Union Station’s magnificent Main Hall, the former waiting room, is one of the most exceptional, publicly accessible interior spaces in the nation. Perhaps its most outstanding feature is the station’s 96-foot-tall barrel vault ceiling. It’s hard not to stop and stare at the ceiling when entering the beautifully proportioned waiting room. Of course, this is the experience shared by tens of thousands of commuters every day. After all, architectural beauty should be a part of everyone’s daily life.
Unfortunately, an earthquake in August 2011 damaged this and many other historic buildings. After the natural disaster, the century-old plaster ceiling, which had last been restored in 1980s, was left cracked and in dire need of repair. Thankfully, the steward of the station, Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC), is fully restoring the historic ceiling -- a laborious project that will repair, re-engineer, repaint, and re-gild the entire ceiling. USRC is undertaking this project one ceiling bay at a time, allowing the station to continue to operate while preserving the historic space for another generation.
Earlier this year, the first restored bay in the Main Hall was revealed as the scaffolding required to complete all this work was moved over to the second bay. Now we can see the meticulous work done by the plaster and gilding craftspeople and get a better sense of the grandeur originally intended for the space.
Part of this work was completed through a $350,000 grant to Union Station from American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to help re-guild the ceiling’s several hundred plaster coffers. This grant adds to the $2 million in preservation grants that American Express contributed to the Capitol region in 2013 through the Partners in Preservation Program. As the Presenting Partner of the National Treasures program, this grant to Union Station is part of $2 million that American Express has pledged to help promote and enable the preservation of these endangered cultural and historic places.
Just last week, the National Trust, Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, and American Express hosted a special behind-the-scenes tour of the restoration project for members of the media. Representatives from online, broadcast, and print outlets donned hardhats and orange vests to climb more than 90 feet of scaffolding and observe the experts at work. Following a tour by USRC and National Trust staff, they were able to touch the plaster and gold ceiling many feet above the floor where hundreds walk each day.
The Union Station Redevelopment Corporation is currently undertaking an extensive restoration of the Main Hall ceiling - damaged in the 2011 earthquake - and this week the National Trust and American Express announced a $350,000 grant to help fund the work. Over the next three years, the USRC will repair, repaint, re-gild, and re-engineer the way that the ceiling is attached to the building's structure. The grant will help fund the re-gilding process.
Learn more about the grant via the Washington Business Journal.
Photo courtesy Carol Highsmith
With over 25 million visitors each year, Union Station is the most popular transit destination in Washington, D.C. Situated in the heart of the nation’s capitol, the station serves as a venue for world-class exhibitions and international cultural events and offers fine dining and shopping in a premier retail shopping mall. For more information, visit http://www.unionstationdc.com/events.
Written by Rob Nieweg, Project Manager
The DC Preservation League, of course, is the District of Columbia’s esteemed citywide historic preservation organization. The organization is an accomplished advocate and a founding member of the new Union Station Preservation Coalition.
On Friday, October 12, the DC Preservation League will convene the annual Citywide Preservation Conference at the historic Charles Sumner School. One focus of the day-long event will be the conceptual master plan for Union Station. Speakers on Union Station will include David Tuchmann of Akridge, Brian Harner of AIA, Amtrak, and myself, on behalf of the National Trust and the Union Station Preservation Coalition. Click here to learn more about the 2012 Citywide Preservation Conference.
As I see it, the October 12 conference session is a good way to expand public awareness and engagement in the master planning process. After all, one of the coalition’s eight guiding principles for the planned redevelopment of Union Station is: "The public must participate in Union Station’s master planning. Union Station is a beloved historic place owned and used by the public, and its redevelopment is a momentous public works project. Complete and timely information about any project should be readily available to all, and the public should have a meaningful role in the planning process."
Save Stemmers Run Station on March 20, 2014
I would like to bring this historical train station to your attention. There has been a stop here since the late 1830's. The original station no longer exist but its replacement does. It was built sometime in the beginning of the 1900's. It still exist today. Though it is in very bad shape. The first station was used by the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore railroad. The second station was I believe used by the PWBRR for short time before being taken over by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The PRR then merged the PWB with a few other lines and ran the Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington railroad on this line. The PRR merged with New York Central and ran the PennCentral through Stemmers Run. This station also held a post office. I do not have the knowledge or contacts to save this piece of American railroad history, so I have set out trying to bring attention to it. With hopes some group will add Stemmers Run Station to their agenda. I have been gathering history on this station to help jump start any group that wishes to save it. It is located on the North East Corridor just 7 miles outside Baltimore City, Maryland.
Timothy Boggs on September 27, 2012
My mother was a young secretarial school student when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. Upon graduation, she took a train from Wisconsin to Union Station in Washington, D.C., holding the typewriter the school had given her. She never forgot the experience of arriving in wartime Washington, D.C., at Union Station--the city's majestic temple of transportation. She often spoke about how she felt walking through the marble halls to begin a new life in the nation's capital as a so-called "government girl." Yes, development will enlarge the station, but it's historic beauty and prominence must not be compromised.
Bill Wright, Committee of 100 for the Federal City on July 06, 2012
What I love most about Union Station is how much it tells you about life in the capital since its opening a century ago. That story only starts with transportation: the building also captures topics like architecture, city planning, economic development, women’s roles, and race relations. From events as big as World War II to those as small as a newcomer’s arrival in Washington, it shows why buildings matter in everyone’s life.