As a former New Yorker, my heart will always belong to Grand Central Station and itslovely astronomical ceiling. (I used to own an umbrella with an image of the ceiling; I loved it THAT much.)
But DC’s Union Station wins an easy second place. And it turns 100 this year — not bad!
Union Station was the largest train station in the world when it opened in 1908 — a time when nearly everyone traveled by train, so it was likely the first thing a visitor would see when entering Washington, DC. The monumental Beaux Arts design covered more ground than any other building in the United States, featuring grand open spaces befitting the station’s role as gateway to the Nation’s Capital.
Union Station has always served as a hub of commerce as well as transportation — besides the usal stores and restaurants, the station has featured services as varied as Turkish baths, an ice house, hotel, mortuary, bowling alley, and YMCA.
Sadly, the once-great building fell into such disrepair by the late 1970s that part of the roof collapsed and toadstools grew inside the station. The station was closed in 1981 and in danger of being razed. Instead, a public-private partnership restored the building to its former glory and redeveloped the station as a bustling hub of shops and restaurants. Between its transportation functions (Metro, Amtrak, and local commuter lines), the variety of commercial services (including even a movie theater and a post office), and the tourists who drop in just to see the building, Union Station now enjoys 32 million visitors a year.
As with all historic train stations, I love to imagine the days when train travel held a bit of magic, the entrance hall served as a bustling waiting room with endless rows of benches, and you might easily spot a dignitary or celebrity traveling in and out of town….
And when I paused to freshen up after my trip? I would have looked like this: