Much remains of old station
November 16, 1995
By Pamela Cressey
As drawn by Al Cox, the east facade of Union Station in 1906 with The George Washington Masonic National Memorial, completed in 1932, in the background. Courtesy City of Alexandria Department of Transportation and Environmental Services.
Most of us probably take the Alexandria Union Station for granted. After all, there are so many federal looking buildings in town, who can tell if one is new or old? Even when driving along Callahan Drive (when it is open again), the station may not appear to have historical significance. Yet, it is one of only four remaining railroad structures which have survived in Alexandria. If you are playing a game of "Historical Pursuits", the other three are the Wilkes Street Tunnel, the Hooff's Run Bridge and the ca.1916 Southern Railway Roundhouse on Holland Lane.
Al Cox, Staff Architect for the City of Alexandria, has ascertained that Union Station does have architectural significance stemming "from the unusual use of the Federal Revival style in its design vocabulary. Built at a time when most depots were designed in bolder Victorian or Beaux Arts styles appropriate to the scale and reflective of the nature of industrialized transport systems...The Federal Revival style did not attain great prominence in Alexandria..., and the station is further important as the only public structure representative of this stylistic preference." Al's report was published earlier this year by the City of Alexandria.
Union Station includes the original passenger depot and baggage building joined by a 20 foot wide breezeway. A 370 foot long shed roofed loggia connects these buildings on the east side. No designer's name appears on the 1904 blueprints on file in the City of Alexandria Archives and Records Center.
The depot roof has seven pedimented dormers with Tuscan pilasters, while the baggage building's sloping roofs include eyebrow vents. The brick is laid in Flemish bond with dark glazed headers. Al Cox writes:"Fenestration is surrounded by semi-circular or elliptical brick arches with a single soldier course of viceroys, projecting winged granite keystones and imposts in the form of Tuscan capitals." The four main entries are double doors with windows on either side. A semi-circular spider web fanlight is within elliptical fanlights above each.
A pedestrian tunnel under the tracks connects the two sides of the passenger platform. A schist fieldstone foundation can be seen on the north side where the site slopes. Also on the north is a brick chimney. The original roof was slate, and wrought iron railings encircled the north and west loggias. An iron wicket fence separated the north and southbound tracks.
Although the interior has been altered, much remains. In 1929 the segregated waiting rooms were eliminated. The current checkerboard black and white tile floor was added at this time. Many of the windows are original oak with marble sills. The oak benches may be original, as are the cast iron steam heat radiators. The wood cathedral ceiling has been covered by plywood. The City's plans call for the restoration of the 1905 architectural elements to their original appearance. Call the Office of Citizen Assistance, 703-838-4800, for a copy of this fascinating report.
Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.