Union Station today officially unveiled its newly restored main hall, marking “the first time the room has been unobstructed in almost 50 years.”
The new room includes “an elaborate system of steel framing to provide a completely new and seismically sound support structure for the historic plaster ceiling,” according to a press release Additionally, the ceiling was repainted and workers applied new gold leafing to its design.
Read more in a press release from Union Station Redevelopment Corporation:
Opened in 1907 as the General Waiting Room of the station, the Main Hall was well known for its impressive scale, stretching 219 feet by 120 feet, with a ceiling height of 96 feet, and grand gold-coffered ceiling. Historically lined with mahogany benches, the Main Hall functioned as large open space until the 1940’s. The onset of World War II resulted in increased traffic at the station, and ticket counters were expanded from the West Hall into the Main Hall, to accommodate the demand. In the 1970’s as train travel declined, and air travel became more popular, ideas to reactivate the grand space were evaluated. The search for a new use resulted in repointing the station as a National Visitor Center in honor of the Nation’s bicentennial. Again, the Main Hall was reconfigured, this time to accommodate a Primary Audi-Visual Experience (PAVE). Sunken in the center of the floor, the PAVE featured a wall of slide show monitors that flashed scenes of Washington. Unpopular, and failing to draw in visitors, the PAVE was closed in 1985, along with the restof the station, for a full-restoration. In 1988 the station was re-opened, with the Center Café prominently positioned in the Main Hall, and additional retail introduced to ensure the station’s long-term economic independence.
In 2011, an earthquake struck Virginia, and damage to the station needed to be
evaluated, igniting a larger discussion amongst station stakeholders and historic agencies on the Main Hall’s preservation and historic restoration.
In 2012, work began on restoring the damaged ceiling, including the installation of an
elaborate system of steel framing to provide a completely new and seismically sound
support structure for the historic plaster ceiling. The entire ceiling bay was also repainted and new gold leafing applied, thanks largely to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and its $350,000 corporate donation from American Express to Union Station. The grant assisted USRC in re-gilding the ceiling inside the Main Hall by aiding in the replacement of more than the 120,000 sheets of 23-karat gold leaf.