When Nick Smith was a student at Gonzaga College High School in the District, the school allowed students to leave campus at lunch time to go elsewhere to eat. But even though the school campus, on Eye Street Northwest, was only a few blocks from Union Station, he rarely remembers going there:
“There just wasn’t much there,” he said. “There was no activity around the station really.” That was 30 years ago…
Union Station, where we will have our lunch stop during our bus tour to Washington, is the most visited destination in Washington D.C, attracting over 40 million visitors a year. Washington’s train station and premier shopping mall, also serves as a venue for world-class exhibitions and international cultural events.
In 1901, the U. S. Senate Park Commission invited master American architect Daniel Burnham to orchestrate a sweeping City Beautiful plan for Washington, D.C., and make it in a setting that was both practical and grandly befitting a world capital. Burnham’s work would help to create the colossal architectures that is now associated with the National Mall. As part of this work, Burnham designed a Union Station that removed the rail lines from the center of the Mall, which had become a tangle of streets and buildings, and brought two major railroads, the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, into one terminal.
The front of the station, on Columbus Circle, presents travelers with a soaring vaulted entryway and heroic statuary on its 600-foot length. The 96-foot high coffered Main Hall ceiling shines with gold leaf, reflecting light onto the expanse of its marble floor through spacious skylights and windows. The former Main Concourse, now the heart of the station lift its barrel-vaulted glass and coffered plaster ceiling 45 feet above the main floor and stretches 760 feet long. It was once said to be the largest single room in the world.
All visitors pass through Union Station including passengers using Amtrak, Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) and Virginia Railway Express (VRE), the Washington Metro subway, taxis, city buses, tourist buses, intercity buses, as well as shoppers and diners. Behind the station, above the train sheds, stands a parking structure offering over 2,000 spaces.
The station, bringing all these modes of transportation together, makes it easy for people to move from private automobile to Amtrak to taxi or from commuter rail onto the subway and still have time to buy a meal, a gift, or a cup of coffee on their way.