If you travel to Washington, D.C. by train, your final destination will be Union Station, a monumental building designed by renowned architect and urban planner, Daniel Burnham. Burnham’s reputation for his work on the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago made him the go-to guy for introducing beauty and grandeur to the nation’s capital. Along with several other members of a commission, he came up with a plan to redesign the area of the city known as the National Mall. Part of this plan included reconfiguring the routes of the trains that ran through this area. With the reluctant approval of the Pennsylvania and B&O Railroads, the paths the trains took through Washington, D.C. were rerouted, and a new terminal was built. Completed in 1908, Union Station is a neoclassical masterpiece. Characterized by scale and symmetry, this style was the dominant style of architecture in European capitals at the time. The grand and orderly buildings represented power and stability. These were qualities the nation’s capital wanted to project to establish its place as one of the world’s great republics.
Drawing its inspiration from ancient Greece and Rome, the neoclassical style includes elements such as geometric motifs, arched entryways, and vaulted ceilings. These can be seen throughout Union Station in the awe-inspiring Main Hall, the original concourse, and the arcades that connect the pavilions.
The columns at the entrance, another common neoclassical design element, are topped with ancient Greek figures chosen to represent the progress of railroading in the United States.
You can learn more about Union Station and pivotal events in its history by watching the video below created in honor of its 100th birthday in 2008.
Cover image by Glyn Lowe PhotoWorks (CC BY 2.0)