Union Station

Washington DC, United States | C.1908

Photo Credit: Accidentally Wes Anderson


Washington, DC’s Union Station has as much grit as it does grandeur. Designed by master American architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham, the hub opened to great excitement in 1908. Over a century later its daily bustle continues, but its journey has been anything but a smooth ride.

Entering today the soaring, coffer-ceilinged Main Hall bearing gold leaf trim illuminated by vast Diocletian windows, might give a sense of the splendor of ancient Greece or Rome…but in fact, at its foundation, the Station was built on Swampoodle.

A neighborhood founded by Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century and later shared with Italians, Swampoodle was a crime-ridden shantytown, rife with drunkenness and debauchery. (Its name is credited to a description of it being “dotted with ‘swamps and puddles.’”) Union Station’s construction wiped out the neighborhood—but the myriad of challenges overcome by the landmark suggest that the fighting spirits of Swampoodle remain.

The station has endured devastating stretches of neglect and deterioration…and even managed to survive a runaway train smashing square into it, at full speed just days before Eisenhower’s inauguration. With tens of thousands of visitors set to arrive at the hub unexpectedly revamped by a massive hole with a train sticking out of it, workers had to think quick.

Using swift ingenuity, the coaches were dragged from the hole, the locomotive was shoved into the basement, and a temporary wooden floor was placed over the hole. By the next day, passengers were strolling over the plank, and did so safely throughout inaugural festivities.

Union Station has seen multiple setbacks since. But due to devoted, ongoing efforts to restore the terminal (plus the lingering, lucky essence of Swampoodle), its legacy is showing no signs of braking anytime soon.

Written By: Accidentally Wes Anderson

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