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Architectural Tour of Union Station

  • 11/01/2014
  • 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM
  • Union Station, Washington DC
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Registration is closed

Tour: 10:00 am--11:30 am; Lunch: 11:30 am – 1:00 pm

Join fellow Cornellians for a tour of famed Chicago architect Daniel Burnham’s Washington Union Station, one of Washington’s greatest places, in the shadow of The Capitol.  Chuck Schilke, Law ’88, former CCW President and current CCW General Counsel, and Johns Hopkins University real estate and architecture expert, will offer the tour, and may be accompanied by a colleague from the Commission on Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission.

While hustling through Union Station on the way to the Metro or AMTRAK, we seldom have time to realize that the century-old station is one of DC’s great monuments.  Many are unaware that Union Station is a central landmark in architectural history, in the planning of Washington DC, and in the overall development of American city planning.

Architect Daniel Burnham, born in upstate New York not far from Ithaca, was one of the inventors of the skyscraper in Chicago in the 1870s and 1880s.  As Director of Works for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition world’s fair in Chicago, Burnham shifted from being a pure architect to the creator of the modern American city planning profession, and from a designer of efficient skyscrapers for commerce to a proponent of the Neoclassical style for public buildings, which sparked a major Neoclassical Revival in architectural style across the United States.  As the National Mall in Washington departed from the classicism of L’Enfant’s original plan over the course of the 19th century and as the country grew, Theodore Roosevelt and others created the McMillan Commission to revive and expand the L’Enfant Plan for the 20th century. 

Based upon his success at the Chicago Fair, the McMillan Commission engaged Burnham to serve as the master planner of the National Mall and the surrounding areas.  At the time, a railroad station on the Mall near the base of Capitol Hill significantly impeded the long vista down the Mall that L’Enfant originally planned.  Burnham persuaded the railroad to abandon its station on The Mall, and to join with the other main railroad serving Washington at what became Union Station, freeing up The Mall for restoration along L’Enfant’s original lines and for extension from The Mall’s original western terminus on the outskirts of the Washington Monument grounds farther west to what is now the Lincoln Memorial. 

Drawing upon the Neoclassicism of the Chicago Fair, Burnham designed Union Station in the finest Neoclassical style, setting a Neoclassical architectural trend in Washington that figured heavily in the implementation of the McMillan Plan and which dominated the District for decades, and which continues to determine the appearance and functionality of the Nation’s Capital down to the present day.  Currently, AMTRAK is contemplating a $7 billion redevelopment of Union Station, in conjunction with the developer Akridge’s proposed Burnham Place project using the air rights over the Union Station tracks.

For the tour, please meet at 10:00 am on the 1st at the entrance to Thunder Grill restaurant, which is just to the right as you enter the main front entrance of Union Station into the Great Hall.  As we gather, we will distribute an extensive set of readings, photos, and plans pertinent to Union Station selected to enrich the tour and help you remember the tour afterward.

Immediately following the tour proper, for those interested , we will have a self-host brunch at a restaurant in Union Station, and continue our discussion of Union Station, Burnham, the McMillan Plan, and whatever related areas alums wish to discuss.

Dress: Casual

Sponsored by: Cornell Club of Washington


Union Station (Red)

Metro - Union Station (ed Line)

Parking - Parking garage at Union Station.  Some metered street may be available nearby.

Please RSVP for both for the tour and for brunch - please provide your name, e-mail and cellphone number.  Parts of the tour will be seated, but we will mostly be walking or standing, so please wear comfortable clothing and footwear.  The tour is partially outdoors, but we will have the tour rain or shine.  The tour is $5, but is limited to the first 30 alums who RSVP.


Chuck Schilke

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