Most of us have walked through Washington Union Station many times, but few of us have stopped to reflect on the full meaning and impact of the Station. Join us for a special In-Person CCW Member tour of the station by fellow Member Chuck Schilke, sometime real estate professor and architectural historian at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins.
Along with the National Mall, Union Station is the greatest work in DC by the famed Chicago architect and planner Daniel Burnham, creator of both the skyscraper and modern city planning. When completed in 1907, it was the largest train station in the world, at a time when the District only had 300,000 people, showing great confidence in the future of the District and the nation as a whole.
The Station is huge; its facade is the same length as the facade of The Capitol.
Here are some of the reasons why Union Station Is important:
1. At the time Burnham created Union Station, there was a railroad station right on the National Mall, where the National Gallery of Art is now located. This station interfered with L’Enfant’s original vision of a Versailles-like long vista as the central motif of the Mall. By removing this railroad from the Mall to Union Station, Burnham was able to restore L’Enfant’s original long view motif in the McMillan Plan, the update and expansion of the L’Enfant Plan for the 20th Century, and create the National Mall we know today.
2. Drawing heavily from the Neoclassicism of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the greatest World’s Fair of the 19th Century, which had a huge impact on aesthetic taste and sparked a nationwide Neoclassical revival in architecture, Burnham designed Union Station in thoroughgoing Neoclassical style. The tour will explain how Burnham managed to do this even though there were no train stations in Classical times!
3. The Neoclassicism of Union Station sparked a wave of Neoclassicism in local DC monuments. While classical influences influenced earlier DC monuments, such as the obelisk of the Washington Monument, subsequent monuments such as the National Gallery of Art, the Masonic Temple, and the Jefferson Memorial probably would not have been in Neoclassical style had it not been for Union Station. The giant Neoclassical Federal Triangle project of the 1920s and 1930s also drew heavily from Union Station.
4. Similarly, Union Station inspired other cities to build in Neoclassical style in what was called the City Beautiful movement.
5. As a kind of capstone to the vast railroad system built privately after the Civil War, Union Station, in the shadow of the Capitol, symbolized Federal regulatory control over the rail system.
In addition to its impactful past, Union Station is planning for an exciting future in the form of interrelated public and private sector redevelopment projects which will take about 20 years to complete. On the public side, the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation is doing the most comprehensive redevelopment of Union Station since its original completion, which will double the passenger throughput of the Station. On the private side, local real estate developer Akridge bought the air rights over the Union Station trainyard, atop which it is building a giant platform which will support about 8 new buildings. Together, these 2 projects are projected to cost $8 billion.
- Registration is free for members, $10 for non-members.
- If attendees are interested, we can have self-host lunch afterward.
- Because the tour is part indoors and part outdoors, we will do the tour rain or shine.
Metro - Union Station (Red Line)
Parking - Parking garage at Union Station. Some metered street may be available nearby.
Questions: Chuck Schilke firstname.lastname@example.org or cell 202-906-9879.
Programming Note: We anticipate that the Union Station Tour will be the prologue to an extended series of programs and tours about the National Mall in the months and years ahead.
Particularly if COVID-19 persists, the next 3 such programs may be Zoom interactive lectures on (1) The Mall Before Burnham, (2) Burnham and the McMillan Plan, and (3) McMillan Plan Designers: Daniel Burnham (planning), Olmsted Jr. (landscape architecture), Charles McKim (classical architecture), and St. Gaudens (sculpture). Please watch for announcements of these programs.