Despite the history, the sculptures, the uniqueness, it’s still kind of hard to wax poetic about Union Station. You see, when Union Station was built, residents lauded the civic project for finally bringing an impressive and worthy gateway for visitors into the nation’s capital. But today, people run in and out of Union Station faster than… well, faster than a speeding train.
Did you know that Union Station is DC’s most visited site? With 32 million people in and out of it every year. (All of the Smithsonian’s combined only obtain 28 million visitors.) With all that foot traffic, I’ll bet 31.5 million didn’t stop to look at the history. In fact, I felt like the first person to ever walk into Union Station expecting, *gasp*, some historical explanations! Or, no – maybe even a tour!
But Union Station is all business these days. After falling into disrepair while airplane usage increased, Union Station eventually shut down for good with Congress scrambling to figure out what to do with it. They considered razing it to the ground, but ultimately opted for giving it a chance, as long as it could sustain itself financially in other ways than train service.
To that end, Union Station took on vendors and restaurants in each of its nooks and crannies. It sells itself out for private parties and the biggest and best of all DC parties, the Inaugural Ball. It serves as the headquarters to Amtrak, and as the bustling center for bus and bike tours of DC.
But despite all the buzz going on within the historical structure itself, I found the real deal just outside the front door. Walking through the 600 foot long facade of arches when exiting Union Station (or entering) makes you feel like an emperor returning in all his glory from a successful battle. The intersection of two Pierre l’Enfant avenues, the curving Columbus circle, the huge lions watching over the Columbus memorial fountain: the symbolism and distinct feelings of dominance and power are overwhelming. And the view of the Capitol just five blocks away only contributes to the awareness that you have just arrived in the nation’s capital.
So the next time you are rushing through Union Station, and it’s a gorgeous day outside just calling you to take a breather, stop by the Columbus circle monuments. Get lost next to the huge Liberty-style bell. Stand under Columbus. See if you stand taller than the eagle. Just take it all in, and remember that you’ve just arrived in the middle of something important, the nation’s capital.
Let’s just say, it’s not the same feeling I get when I’m kissing the ground at Reagan National.