WASHINGTON—A rare earthquake hit the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area in August 2011, damaging structures across the city. Among the affected buildings was Union Station, one of the capital’s most-visited tourist sites and a busy transportation hub served by Amtrak, VRE and MARC commuter rail, intercity and local buses, subway and a bikeshare system. As a result of the tremor, the station’s Main Hall, a majestic room measuring 220 feet long by 120 feet wide, suffered damage; the barrel-vaulted, coffered ceiling, which soars 96 feet above the floor at its highest point, exhibited cracks and detached plaster.
A project to repair the ceiling is now underway, and involves a large rolling scaffolding that will move from one section to the next as workers reinforce the plaster ceiling’s connection to the roof above, repair cracks, paint surfaces and re-gild the center of each octagonal coffer.
In November 2013, American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, through their Partners in Preservation program, announced the award of a $350,000 grant to the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC) to assist with the costs of re-gilding the coffers. This partnership between American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation is meant to “increase the public’s awareness of the importance of historic preservation in the United States and to preserve America’s historic and cultural places [while also inspiring] long-term support from local citizens for the historic places at the heart of their communities.”
The grant will pay for more than 120,000 sheets of 23-karat gold leaf that will be applied to the ceiling by skilled artisans. Abundant sunlight filtering through the Main Hall’s large Diocletian windows will serve to highlight the lustrous coffers. The USRC, a private non-profit organization that manages the station’s development lease and oversees maintenance, expects the Main Hall ceiling to be completed in 2016.