A Beaux Arts icon designed by renowned architect Daniel Burnham, Union Station is many things to the 100,000 people who use it daily. First and foremost, the station is a busy transit hub serving fourteen types of transportation, from passenger trains and inter-city buses, to bike sharing services and DC’s subway system. Just two blocks from the U.S. Capitol, Union Station is also one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations and a vital community anchor.
Today, ambitious plans are in the works to transform Union Station: the rail concourse will be dramatically expanded in anticipation of significant increases in ridership; the station's 214,000-square-foot shopping mall will be upgraded; and a huge mixed-use development over the station's rail yard is in the planning stages.
In the past, incompatible changes and avoidable neglect have harmed Union Station. However, if ongoing expansion and modernization are handled well – and historic preservation becomes a top priority for planners – future development will complement the landmark while preserving its integrity for future generations. With careful planning, Union Station can become an international model for historic preservation, multi-modal transportation, and transit-oriented development.
- Preserve the 105-year-old train station.
- Ensure the historic station is protected while it is transformed to serve twenty-first century transit passengers.
Ways To Help
Donate to our campaign to save Union Station.
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With over 25 million visitors each year, Union Station is the most popular transit destination in Washington, D.C. Situated in the heart of the nation’s capitol, the station serves as a venue for world-class exhibitions and international cultural events and offers fine dining and shopping in a premier retail shopping mall. For more information, visit http://www.unionstationdc.com/events.
Written by Rob Nieweg, Project Manager
The DC Preservation League, of course, is the District of Columbia’s esteemed citywide historic preservation organization. The organization is an accomplished advocate and a founding member of the new Union Station Preservation Coalition.
On Friday, October 12, the DC Preservation League will convene the annual Citywide Preservation Conference at the historic Charles Sumner School. One focus of the day-long event will be the conceptual master plan for Union Station. Speakers on Union Station will include David Tuchmann of Akridge, Brian Harner of AIA, Amtrak, and myself, on behalf of the National Trust and the Union Station Preservation Coalition. Click here to learn more about the 2012 Citywide Preservation Conference.
As I see it, the October 12 conference session is a good way to expand public awareness and engagement in the master planning process. After all, one of the coalition’s eight guiding principles for the planned redevelopment of Union Station is: "The public must participate in Union Station’s master planning. Union Station is a beloved historic place owned and used by the public, and its redevelopment is a momentous public works project. Complete and timely information about any project should be readily available to all, and the public should have a meaningful role in the planning process."
Written by Rob Nieweg, Project Manager
Union Station is making headlines.
On August 17, David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington published an opinion piece in The Washington Post entitled, "Remaking Union Station: Do we have what it takes?" Alpert’s piece describes the “breathtaking” historic rail station and its “grossly overcrowded waiting areas,” while he embraces Amtrak’s July 2012 vision as a “bold and much-needed master plan that would turn the crowded gateway to our capital into a fitting and modern terminal with enough track and platform capacity for the next 100 years.” Alpert concludes: “It’s a vision for what would be a 15- to 20-year project, and it’s not cheap. But we need to dream big, and long term, the way the generations who built today’s Washington did.”
A few weeks ago, on July 26, Dan Malouff of BeyondDC wrote that Amtrak’s master plan “looks pretty nice, and includes some beautiful features. Despite that, I can’t help but feel a little bit nervous about the whole thing.” Malouff’s post, entitled “Remake Union Station? Yes, but be careful,” goes on to explain: “The key concern with any potential redesign must be the continued health and vitality of the historic building. Expansion is fine, but the old building must not be replaced, even in function. Supplement, but don’t take over. The key demand for any expansion of Union Station must be that the original building continues to function as an integral part of the depot.”
Preservationists, I think, share Alpert’s enthusiasm and Malouff’s key concerns. Hence, our cautious optimism.
Written by Robert Nieweg
On Wednesday, August 15, I attended a public open house hosted by Amtrak regarding the corporation’s recently-released master plan, which would dramatically expand Washington’s Union Station. We hope this is the first of many opportunities for public information and input.
Amtrak’s open house was held at Gate D in the Amtrak Concourse at the height of rush hour. Dozens of people, many from the surrounding neighborhood, milled about in the open house, moving from exhibit to exhibit to learn about the master plan. Click here for the handout provided to all attendees. Each display was informative, but people stood elbow to elbow at the three-dimensional model of Union Station and its rail yards to learn how the complex master plan works. Little or no information was presented, however, to illustrate the significant changes proposed for the monumental Main Hall by Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation, the real estate investment firm which controls the retail spaces within the station.
The conceptual master plan, which was created by Amtrak in collaboration with Akridge, the air rights developer, the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, U.S. Department of Transportation (which owns the station), and other agencies, envisions “a high-functioning and well-integrated multimodal transportation hub, as well as a new urban neighborhood.” The ambitious plan aspires to match the “quality and vision of the original, iconic Union Station design” while “preserving Union Station as an architectural treasure” by “seamlessly integrating” new facilities within the historic station building.
By its own terms, to be successful this public-private partnership must “preserve the iconic existing Union Station, limit negative impacts on surrounding neighborhoods, and respect the historic legacy of Daniel Burnham’s original station design and Washington’s city plan.” Preservationists share the proponent’s standards. As the preservation coalition’s report recommends:
- Restoration of Union Station must go hand-in-hand with its expansion. Union Station is a national architectural icon and an irreplaceable Washington landmark. As hundreds of millions of dollars are spent to expand it as a transportation center, the historic station should be restored to its original grandeur and protected from harmful future changes.
- Union Station must become a splendid neighborhood anchor. The expansion of Union Station is an unprecedented opportunity for the surrounding neighborhoods. The project should support community revitalization and create new connections that benefit both travelers and neighbors.
- Development adjoining Union Station must embody exemplary architectural design. The placement and design of new buildings near Union Station should be compatible with and enhance the historic station. They should strive to become respectful landmarks of our own time.
Amtrak and its partners plan to continue and expand their public outreach regarding the proposed changes to Union Station and the redevelopment of the adjacent rail yard. This is good news for those who love this National Treasure.
Timothy Boggs on September 27, 2012
My mother was a young secretarial school student when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. Upon graduation, she took a train from Wisconsin to Union Station in Washington, D.C., holding the typewriter the school had given her. She never forgot the experience of arriving in wartime Washington, D.C., at Union Station--the city's majestic temple of transportation. She often spoke about how she felt walking through the marble halls to begin a new life in the nation's capital as a so-called "government girl." Yes, development will enlarge the station, but it's historic beauty and prominence must not be compromised.
Bill Wright, Committee of 100 for the Federal City on July 06, 2012
What I love most about Union Station is how much it tells you about life in the capital since its opening a century ago. That story only starts with transportation: the building also captures topics like architecture, city planning, economic development, women’s roles, and race relations. From events as big as World War II to those as small as a newcomer’s arrival in Washington, it shows why buildings matter in everyone’s life.