Daily Necessities

Union Station Returns to Its Former Glory

April 08,2024 by Matthew Bell

For four years travelers passing through Washington, D.C.’s Union Station have been greeted with scaffolding and construction netting, put in place after a 2011 earthquake damaged the 1907 Beaux Arts icon by architect Daniel Burnham. But this past May the equipment was cleared from the terminal’s Main Hall, finally revealing the beautifully restored space. Completed with the help of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the painstaking project revived the coffered ceiling with some 120,000 sheets of 23K-gold leaf, all the while bracing the structure against future seismic activity. The gilding shines all the more thanks to the removal of awkward additions made over the decades, among them a circular café. Today, for the first time since the ’40s, the soaring expanse is as Burnham originally intended—a pristine gateway to the nation’s capital.

Union Station revealed the awe-inspiring results of a four-year restoration in May.

During the restoration, which was overseen by the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, scaffolding soared 90 feet so that workers could reach the barrel-vaulted ceiling, found cracking after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in August 2011.

The Gilder's Studio, an Olney, Maryland–based operation, affixed more than 120,000 sheets of gold leaf to the Main Hall’s ceiling, which features 255 octagonal coffers as well as 350 smaller diamond and triangular coffers. Baltimore firm Hayles and Howe, meanwhile, was enlisted to anchor in the decorative moldings that surround each one.

Extensive scaffolding and netting bedecked the Main Hall for years while the project was taking place.

Workers handle the face of the large clock perched along the Main Hall’s eastern side.

Workers apply decorative stenciling to the gilded band on the east barrel vault of the Main Hall ceiling.

A row of Roman centurion statues overlooks the bustling Main Hall.

The 400-year-old Italian workshop of Giusto Manetti Battiloro produced all of the gold leaf for the project, which was funded in large part by American Express, the National Trust’s corporate sponsor. The decision to replace the gilding with 23K gold, instead of the original 22K, was made in order to reduce maintenance costs.

The more than 100,000 people who pass through Union Station daily can now appreciate Burnham’s original vision for the space.

About author

Leave a Reply