Union Station, Washington DC

  • Last Updated: May 13, 2008 6:38 am

Union Station ia a monumental gateway to America's capital city opened in 1907, and today it is one of Washington, D.C.'s most popular attractions to aproximately 22 million people each year. As one of the premiere shopping areas in the country, there are shops, galleries, boutiques and restaurants are situated throughout the station. Union Station also serves as a major terminal for Amtrak rail services. Address: 50 Massachusetts Avenue NE Washington DC USA. Phone: 1 202 371-9441

Architect Daniel Burnham, assisted by Pierce 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 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 six colossal statues designed by Louis St. Gaudens titled "The Progress of Railroading" 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. Louis St. Gaudens also created the thirty-six centurions for the station's main hall.
Burnham drew upon a tradition, launched with 1837's Euston Station in London, of treating the entrance to a major terminal as a triumphal arch. 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 much to the Court of Heroes 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 such as André Le Notre. The radiating avenues can been seen in the satellite view (illustration, right).
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