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.
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).
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?
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.