Union Station is the main railway station in Washington. It was constructed between 1907 and 1908 as the new terminal for the Baltimore & Ohio and the Pennsylvania Railroads. The terminal would be the main gateway to the capital of the United States for more than forty years.
The Chicago architect Daniel Burnham designed a beautiful grand building in the Beaux-Arts style, a neoclassicist style popular since the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. An impressive 182 meters long, the building was the largest train station in the world. The central archway, based on the Arch of Constantine in Rome leads to the main hall with a 29m/96ft high barrel-vaulted ceiling. The coffered ceiling was decorated with gold leaf. Other expensive materials were used such as marble and granite, resulting in a then enormous cost of $125 million.
The station’s heyday
In its heyday the Union Station was the main transportation hub of Washington, servicing more than 100,000 passengers on a single day. The station even had a Presidential Suite, first used by president Taft in 1909. The last of the seventeen presidents using the suite was president Eisenhower.
In the 1950s, when air travel became more and more popular, the number of passengers started to decline and the railway station had become too large. An attempt in the 1970s to turn it into a visitors center failed. By that time, the state of the building had deteriorated to such an extent that parts of the roof started to cave in. Congress and the Railroad authorities debated whether the Union Station would be demolished or renovated. Fortunately, in 1981 a joint public and private venture was set up to restore the building.