In August 2011, a 5.4-magnitude earthquake rocked Union Station, cracking the ornate, vaulted ceiling above the transportation hub's Main Hall.
Structural repairs began immediately, and it was soon realized that the iconic building, where generations of powerful people have arrived by train and walked to Capitol Hill to lead the nation, would need further work to preserve its historic integrity. More than 100,000 people pass through the station each day, and it is the busiest Metro stop in the District, serving about 32,000 Red Line riders every weekday.
On Tuesday, the groups behind a $350,000 grant to regild the aged ceiling and restore its original grandeur — American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation — gave the media a peek at the ongoing repairs.
The team led reporters on a climb to the surface of the 96-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling, up a scaffolding tower constructed by the same company that raised scaffolding for projects at the National Cathedral and the Washington Monument.
To date, only 20 percent of the ceiling has been restored and regilded with a 23-karat goldleaf material, promised to be more lustrous and more durable than the current 22-karat finish. As repairs continue, the scaffolding will roll the entire length of Main Hall, from east to west.
When repairs are completed in 2016, officials promise the Main Hall will be returned to the grandeur and elegance it had when it opened to the public in 1908.