Monuments of mobility: A comparative study in adaptive reuse of Washington, D.C.'s Union Station and Kansas City's Union Station

Carson, Michael
Major Professor
Mikesch W Muecke
Committee Member
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ABSTRACTThe growth of the railroad industry in the United States began on the east coast in 1803 and quickly spread westward, culminating in its ultimate link with the west coast via the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. Monumental train terminals—a new building type at the time—were constructed at key points of articulation along the way. The industry reached its peak in the early twentieth century but suffered a decline as the automobile and airline industries became preferable modes of transportation. As a new and growing nation in the mid-nineteenth century, the United States chose to utilize the Beaux-Arts architectural style—known for its historical references, grandeur, and monumental scale—as the appropriate style to convey the celebrated nature of its public buildings, including train terminals. The Beaux-Arts style, whose popularity was advanced by the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, was aided by the prosperity and innovation brought forth by the industrial revolution and the planning concepts of the City Beautiful Movement. History shows that monumental train terminals followed a cyclical pattern of use consisting of a height of use or heyday, followed by a period of decline, and culminating in a resurgence or renaissance due to restoration and adaptive reuse. This study aims to answer the question of how the legacy of two monumental train terminals have impacted preservation and cultural heritage practices from their origins at the beginning of the twentieth century to the present. Additionally, it sought to understand what the legacy of public transportation buildings is in general to the American public. Train terminals are monumental works of art that facilitated the growth of the United States through the railroad. Their role in this capacity, as structures of such significance, merits their preservation and rehabilitation for posterity. To find the answers to these questions the author conducted a comprehensive comparative analysis of both Washington Union Station and Kansas City Union Station through which he examined the history and restoration approaches for both train terminals by their ownership groups. Kansas City Union Station and Washington Union Station both followed this cyclical pattern of the height of use, decline, and resurgence. By understanding their respective history from inception to their restoration and adaptive reuse, we can understand the fundamental models that result in the train terminals’ continued viability. The results of the comparative analysis highlighted the significant relationship between the community, historic preservation, and the positive impact that these two exemplary terminals have had on preservation and cultural heritage practices. The results also showed that social and cultural values manifest themselves in a shared sense of meaning associated with memories brought about by the restoration of these historically significant structures. The highly public nature of their successful restorations allows them to serve as good ambassadors of historic preservation and cultural heritage. The efforts of many in the restoration of these two terminals were proved worthwhile. The sustained viability of historic train terminals such as Washington Union Station and Kansas City Union Station, informs people of their own diverse history and culture and what the future may hold through their revitalized presence. The general well-being of Kansas City Union Station and Washington Union Station is evidenced by planned future expansions, and the health of preservation and adaptive reuse as a whole is reinforced by the current extensive restoration of a third monumental train terminal, Michigan Central Station (see Chapter 6), within its surrounding neighborhoods. The conservation of historic buildings, as evidenced by the train terminal archetype presented here, fosters a remembrance of what shaped our culture and society and what the future holds. Their preservation ensures that future generations are afforded the same.