Fight for Union Station

Have you ever walked into Union Station’s Great Hall (the huge, high-ceiling-ed front room) and asked yourself: what is that cafe and why is it just sitting there cutting off the room?  No?  Well, next time you’re in there check it out and see if you don’t come to the conclusion that the strange, round intrusion makes no sense in that space.

But, I digress.  The real issue today is not just this cafe, but the 1,300 square-foot hole that the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation wants to cut into the Great Hall’s floor.  Right under the cafe.  Then, they want to raise the cafe up two stories, and built a ultra-modern glass elevator and staircase to connect it to the food court below.

The proposed 1,300 sq. ft. hole and ultra-modern glass elevators

There are so many problems with this proposal.  First, why is this necessary?  If the USRC wants to create more economic growth in the building, this is a dumb plan.  Something better: get rid of the cafe, which is a ridiculous waste of space that blocks pedestrian traffic flow, not to mention the whole aesthetic of the room.  Instead, install temporary stalls around the edges of the room and allow local craftspeople to set up shop (like in Quincy Market, Boston).

Quincy Market

Second, if you really HAVE to do this, can’t you come up with a better design, USRC?  In a historic, Beaux-Arts room designed by architect Daniel Burnham (otherwise known as the man who designed the Chicago World’s Fair – see The Devil and the White City), do we really need a lot of glass and flash?  Can’t we keep with the character of the room?  A room that is part of a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places?

The way the Great Hall used to look

Third, haven’t we already had this argument?  In the 1970’s, when Union Station was being used as the bicentennial visitor’s center, someone cut a huge hole into the floor of the Great Hall as a place to exhibit a slide show.  Widely known as “The Pit”, it was universally deemed a preservation and aesthetic nightmare.   In fact, the whole visitor’s center was a massive bomb.  According to a 1998 NYT article about the station’s renovation, “The pit quickly became a symbol of the center’s failure and showed the extent to which the architectural integrity of the station had been violated.  One of the first orders of business for the contractors working on the restoration was to cover it up.”  So why are we back here again?

That is my rant.  If you want to help preserve this room, please vote HERE for Union Station in the National Trust’s “This Place Matters!” contest.  The winner receives $25,000 and the prize money will go towards addressing this terrible proposal.

6 thoughts on “Fight for Union Station

  1. I agree that architecture will come down to a matter of taste. But, the point of the whole design IS to create easier access to the food court (and would raise the cafe up 2 stories). So, I don’t think we can ignore the food market aspect of the design. But, I don’t think the blogger was suggesting food carts – I understood the suggestion to be for carts housing local artists.

    1. ok. point still holds about the fact that there was never a market of any kind (food, local artists, money changers in the temple, etc.)

      how would adding carts not be bastardizing the space, but adding a cafe would be? if you’re opposed to changing the space from its original look, you have to advocate for putting back the benches and leaving it at that, or your reason for opposing the cafe simply comes down to a matter of taste, no facts.

  2. i disagree. the use of “1300 square foot hole” sounds like a scare tactic, like a HUGE number like that means a HUGE hole. compared to the size of the room, it’s not that big.

    1. Amy

      I think if you look at the current plans for the space, the problem is not so much that they are cutting a hole in the floor of the room, the problem is the completely modern design of the new cafe and elevators, which detract from the beauty of the space and do not add to the design.

      On a side note, the current cafe may not be very large for the space, but it is truly and eyesore. Everytime I am in Union Station I think about how random and ugly that cafe is. At least the carts would be more aestically pleasing.

      1. well, i completely disagree, and with all things architectural, it all comes down to taste in the end, so some will side with me and some with you, simple as that.

        i think the completely modern design adds to the space. i like it. i think carts would look jumbled, chaotic, and would appear to be a weak attempt at classicism. there was never a food market in there, so why would carts be appropriate?

  3. mamul

    Nice post – although it seems the current cafe doesn’t really cut off the room as much as having a bunch of push carts would.

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