Discover / Union Station
Save a National Treasure
REGION: South
LOCATION:
Washington, DC
TYPE: Building
Union Station serves as a historic gateway to the Nation's Capital. | Photo: Carol Highsmith
Union Station serves as a historic gateway to the Nation's Capital. | Photo: Carol Highsmith
Opportunity
Preserve the 1907 railroad station that serves as a gateway to the Nation's Capital as the busy transportation center is expanded to serve the needs of twenty-first century travelers.

Overview

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.

National Significance

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.

Campaign Goals

  • 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.

Posted on September 18, 2014

Written by Rob Niewig, Project Manager

I’m excited to share with we have an upcoming volunteer opportunity at Union Station! In celebration of National Public Lands Day, Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC) is partnering with the National Park Service (NPS) in a effort to clean up Columbus Plaza on Saturday, September 27 from 10:00 a.m. 3:00 p.m.

Volunteers are invited to join USRC and the NPS to clean, weed, mulch, and plant new landscaping in Columbus Plaza — the “front door” of Union Station. Tools and materials will be provided and the event will go on rain or shine. For more information or to sign up, please click here.

Union Station in Washington, DC is a Beaux Arts icon that serves as a gateway to the Nation's Capital for nearly 100,000 people each day. Since becoming part of our National Treasure program in 2011, the National Trust has been working with the USRC and other partners to ensure preservation of the historic train station while this busy transportation center is expanded and improved to serve the needs of twenty-first century travelers.

We hope to see you on the 27th!

Please check back often for additional updates on Union Station. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

Posted on July 01, 2014

Excerpt from Elevation DC

Areas of the historic station typically closed to the public were opened up May 31 to a select group of Instagram users by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (which advertises with Elevation DC). The photographers got to go above the netting in the main hall to get up close and personal with the statues of the Roman legionaires that look down on commuters. They also checked out the Presidential reception room (which was most recently the restaurant B. Smith's) and a Pullman train car that Franklin Delano Roosevelt used until 1940.

Read the full story >>

Learn more about Union Station >>

Posted on March 16, 2014

Union Station present day - exterior

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.

Historic photo Union Station

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.

 

Posted on November 15, 2013

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

Union Station by Carol Highsmith
Photo courtesy Carol Highsmith

Posted on April 19, 2013

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

Posted on September 19, 2012

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."

Please check back often for additional updates on Union Station. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

Posted on August 24, 2012

Written by Rob Nieweg, Project Manager

Union Station is making headlines.

On August 17, David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington published an opinion piece in The Washington Post entitled, "Remaking Union Station: Do we have what it takes?" Alpert’s piece describes the “breathtaking” historic rail station and its “grossly overcrowded waiting areas,” while he embraces Amtrak’s July 2012 vision as a “bold and much-needed master plan that would turn the crowded gateway to our capital into a fitting and modern terminal with enough track and platform capacity for the next 100 years.” Alpert concludes: “It’s a vision for what would be a 15- to 20-year project, and it’s not cheap. But we need to dream big, and long term, the way the generations who built today’s Washington did.”

A few weeks ago, on July 26, Dan Malouff of BeyondDC wrote that Amtrak’s master plan “looks pretty nice, and includes some beautiful features. Despite that, I can’t help but feel a little bit nervous about the whole thing.” Malouff’s post, entitled “Remake Union Station? Yes, but be careful,” goes on to explain: “The key concern with any potential redesign must be the continued health and vitality of the historic building. Expansion is fine, but the old building must not be replaced, even in function. Supplement, but don’t take over. The key demand for any expansion of Union Station must be that the original building continues to function as an integral part of the depot.”

Preservationists, I think, share Alpert’s enthusiasm and Malouff’s key concerns. Hence, our cautious optimism. 

Please check back often for additional updates on Union Station. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

Posted on August 16, 2012

Written by Robert Nieweg

On Wednesday, August 15, I attended a public open house hosted by Amtrak regarding the corporation’s recently-released master plan, which would dramatically expand Washington’s Union Station. We hope this is the first of many opportunities for public information and input. 

Amtrak’s open house was held at Gate D in the Amtrak Concourse at the height of rush hour. Dozens of people, many from the surrounding neighborhood, milled about in the open house, moving from exhibit to exhibit to learn about the master plan. Click here for the handout provided to all attendees. Each display was informative, but people stood elbow to elbow at the three-dimensional model of Union Station and its rail yards to learn how the complex master plan works. Little or no information was presented, however, to illustrate the significant changes proposed for the monumental Main Hall by Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation, the real estate investment firm which controls the retail spaces within the station. 

The conceptual master plan, which was created by Amtrak in collaboration with Akridge, the air rights developer, the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, U.S. Department of Transportation (which owns the station), and other agencies, envisions “a high-functioning and well-integrated multimodal transportation hub, as well as a new urban neighborhood.” The ambitious plan aspires to match the “quality and vision of the original, iconic Union Station design” while “preserving Union Station as an architectural treasure” by “seamlessly integrating” new facilities within the historic station building. 

By its own terms, to be successful this public-private partnership must “preserve the iconic existing Union Station, limit negative impacts on surrounding neighborhoods, and respect the historic legacy of Daniel Burnham’s original station design and Washington’s city plan.” Preservationists share the proponent’s standards. As the preservation coalition’s report recommends:

  • Restoration of Union Station must go hand-in-hand with its expansion. Union Station is a national architectural icon and an irreplaceable Washington landmark. As hundreds of millions of dollars are spent to expand it as a transportation center, the historic station should be restored to its original grandeur and protected from harmful future changes.
  • Union Station must become a splendid neighborhood anchor. The expansion of Union Station is an unprecedented opportunity for the surrounding neighborhoods. The project should support community revitalization and create new connections that benefit both travelers and neighbors.
  • Development adjoining Union Station must embody exemplary architectural design. The placement and design of new buildings near Union Station should be compatible with and enhance the historic station. They should strive to become respectful landmarks of our own time. 

Amtrak and its partners plan to continue and expand their public outreach regarding the proposed changes to Union Station and the redevelopment of the adjacent rail yard. This is good news for those who love this National Treasure. 

Please check back often for additional updates on Union Station. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

Posted on August 08, 2012

Written by Robert Nieweg, Project Manager

Information is now flowing about the long-awaited master plan for the expansion of Washington, DC's historic Union Station

The National Trust and our allies in the Union Station Preservation Coalition are reviewing the executive summary of the Union Station master plan, which was released to the public on July 25th. We’ve also reached out to representatives of Amtrak and Akridge, the air-rights developer of Burnham Place, to get more detailed information about the ambitious plan. To their credit, both Amtrak and Akridge have agreed to meet with the preservation coalition. 

It's still early in the game, but the National Trust is optimistic – cautiously optimistic – about the master plan. As our report says, the proposed changes to Union Station “create unparalleled opportunities to ensure that our community protects – and even restores – Union Station’s historic character while making it a world-class, mixed-use development and multi-modal transportation center.” 

Now, there’s an important opportunity for the public to learn about the Union Station master plan at an open house event on August 15 hosted by Amtrak, Akridge, and the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation. We urge you to participate and voice your own opinion. 

Please check back often for additional updates on Union Station. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

Posted on August 02, 2012

Written by Erica Stewart, Public Affairs Manager

Union Station, a Washington, DC landmark beloved by locals and visitors alike, is heading for an "extreme makeover," and we at the National Trust have joined with our preservation allies to make sure that what we know and love about the station – its historic character – is still intact after the construction dust settles.

Last week, Amtrak revealed an ambitious conceptual master plan that would increase the number of tracks, trains, and travelers that can be handled at what is now the East Coast’s second-busiest station. Commercial developer Akridge also intends to construct three million square feet of office, residential, and commercial space by decking over the tracks behind Union Station. Still other entities have designs on expanding the station.

These are indeed heady times for Union Station, and we’re excited about the potential to improve what can be a crowded and confusing place to navigate. It's important, however, that great caution be taken with the 1907 Daniel Burham-designed station, and that the several plans for new construction be coordinated by a thoughtful, integrated planning approach that restores the station and involves the voice of the public in the process.

To that end, the National Trust, as part of the Union Station Preservation Coalition, has helped prepare a report that recommends ways to best preserve Union Station’s historic integrity. 

Please check back often for additional updates on Union Station. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

Posted on July 26, 2012

Written by Rob Nieweg, Project Manager

July 25 was a big day for Union Station! At long last, Amtrak officials released their $7 billion plan to expand and modernize the railroad terminal. I joined a standing-room-only crowd of architects, Amtrak representatives, city officials, and members of the media that gathered yesterday afternoon in the ornate Columbus Room at Union Station to learn more about Amtrak's proposal. 

Several important DC political figures first took the podium, including Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who highlighted Union Station's iconic status, and former Mayor Anthony Williams, who called Union Station a celebration of the best our city and our nation has to offer. As for the plan itself, Amtrak President and Chief Executive Joseph Boardman described a vision that would double the number of trains the station can handle and add new concourses, platforms, and tracks. Developer Chip Akridge is also planning a $1.3-billion mixed-use complex of offices, residences, hotels, and retail that would be built on a deck over the tracks behind the station. See here for Amtrak’s plan.

This is just the beginning, we hope, of the public engagement process for Union Station. What wasn't discussed yesterday, unfortunately, was how the Amtrak and Akridge plans would impact the physical structure or visual appeal of the historic station – or how the massive public works project would be funded. It is surely going to involve taxpayer dollars, which makes it even more important that the potential impacts on the station's historic character – positive and negative – must be fully examined before decisions are finalized. We will be sure to steer the conversation in that direction, as we will present our guiding principles for the preservation of Union Station next week. In the meantime, please see here for a statement from National Trust President Stephanie Meeks on yesterday's announcement.

Please check back often for additional updates on Union Station. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

Posted on July 19, 2012

Written by Rob Nieweg, Project Manager

I’m Rob Nieweg, director of the National Trust’s Washington Field Office. I’ve been traveling through Union Station for many years, and am happy to serve as the project manager for the National Trust’s advocacy to save the 1907 rail station.

I’ll be providing periodic updates here about our work at Union Station, which we’re pursuing in collaboration with the Union Station Preservation Coalition. The founders of the new preservation coalition include the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, Committee of 100 on the Federal City, DC Preservation League, and the National Trust.

The National Trust has collaborated with each of these well-established partner groups before, and now we’ve banded together to advocate for Union Station. We’re also consulting with the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, a nonprofit created in 1982 by the U.S. Department of Transportation as the steward of historic Union Station. 

Today, the preservation coalition is seeking to better understand a number of independent proposals to expand and upgrade Union Station. The re-development of Union Station may offer key opportunities for restoration and preservation; at the same time, large-scale re-development poses a risk that the historic station may be overwhelmed by incompatible change. 

Several ambitious plans are under development by a small set of parties, including Amtrak and others, largely behind closed doors. As the Washington Business Journal reported on June 13, 2012, Amtrak is “closely guarding” its plan to overhaul and transform Union Station. Amtrak may release its plan to the public later this summer. 

Please check back often for additional updates on Union Station. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

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, , 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.

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