Forum Bulletin

Re-investing in Historic Union Station 

08-02-2012 00:00


For more than a century, monumental and stately train stations have served as gateways to our nation’s big cities. Millions of people continue to pass through the ornate, vaulted spaces of these buildings every day. Now, many of these grand old train terminals are being repurposed, reconfigured, and rebuilt to serve new purposes.  Not only do they serve as transportation hubs for train, bus, and subway service, but they also house shopping malls, movie theaters, and office space.  Honoring the rich architectural legacy of these stations while adapting them to new and expanded uses presents some exciting opportunities.

Washington D.C.’s Union Station, which has been designated a National Treasure by the National Trust, is at a junction, and its central location and the need for expansion mean new opportunities and a just few challenges for this national landmark.  The station, which opened in 1907, is a gateway for millions of travelers each year.  Magnificently restored in the 1980s, the station now provides a remarkable collection of benefits to visitors and residents alike: a beautiful structure, multi-modal transportation, opportunities for shopping and dining, jobs, and tax revenues.  The challenge in 2012 is to ensure that Union Station remains an awe-inspiring landmark and highly functional transportation facility. 

Several groups have recently proposed major developments that would expand and change the station. Proposed changes include expanded railroad facilities, major interior rebuilding, bigger transit facilities, and major building over the tracks. The proposed changes could improve the station—or undermine an architectural and community icon.  

A newly-formed group—the Union Station Preservation Coalition—is dedicated to ensuring that planning for these new projects recognizes the importance of the historic resource and serves the most important stakeholder: the public. The coalition includes the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, the DC Preservation League, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The coalition has just released a white paper that introduces the current proposals for the terminal, documents the importance of Union Station, and offers eight recommendations for balancing the building’s past with its future.

Primary among those recommendations are:

1. Planning at and around the station must be integrated and comprehensive.
2. Preservation of the station must be a top priority.
3. Transportation must be the station’s primary use.

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Author(s):National Trust Staff

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