Frank Tana has a keen interest in Washington, D.C.'s Union Station: His father helped build the depot back in 1905, and Tana, now an Amtrak foreman, started there as a coach cleaner 48 years ago.
Tana worked at the station in the glory days when it was the city's gateway, and he was there for its slow, painful decline into a boarded-up hulk.Now, a year before his retirement, he'll watch the public celebration of its splendid restoration.
When Union Station reopens this week, Tana's son Joe will finally understand all those stories his dad told him about the crowds, the fun and the excitement of working the train lines.
"On holidays that old Union Station was so full that you couldn't get around," Tana said. "The concourse was just open space, no columns or nothing. During the war, I saw them feed 7,000 soldiers there at one sitting."
Union Station was erected as a monument to the United States and its railroads.
"You wouldn't build anything like this today - it's too imperial," said Timothy Gardner, vice president of passenger marketing at Amtrak. "But it still speaks to something inside you because it was so well done."
With a $160 million renovation and remodeling project financed with a mixture of tax dollars and private funds, Union Station is ready to become a living part of the capital again.
The restored building will be used both as a transportation center and a shopping and entertainment gallery. On opening day, 84 stores and restaurants will be ready for business, along with a nine-screen, 2,000-seat cinema, according to Bill Swanson, managing director of LaSalle Partners, of Chicago, which will manage the building.
"I think this is a better building than when it was first built," Amtrak's Gardner said. "A lot of people are going to come just to walk around here."
When Union Station opened on Oct. 27, 1907, it set the standard for Washington architure. Designs of the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, the Supreme Court building and the Federal Triangle were all influenced by the station, according to Diane Sun, a spokeswoman for LaSalle Partners.
Clean, neo-classical lines cut the white marble exterior. The front entrance opens into the main hall, which measures 120 feet by 220 feet. The east and west wings reach off from that. Gold leaf gilds the coffered ceiling, which arches 96 feet above the floor, and statues of 36 Roman legionnaires stand on a ledge that runs the perimeter of the room.
The floor is white marble, quarried from the same supply that built the Parthenon in Athens, according to John Barianos of Barianos Historic Restorations in Rockville, Md.
Barianos, a fourth-generation craftsman, supervised the 400 artisans who restored the building. He and his wife, Helen, spent two years on research before any work began.
The job required an international scavenger hunt. For example, the floor had to be replaced, and the original quarry in Vermont was exhausted. The best - and least expensive - solution was to go to Greece.
"We find complete catastrophe here," Barianos said. "We go inch by inch over the building to find evidence of the original building because it was very deteriorated."
Barianos cited the East Room, off the main hall, as an example of what he and his workers faced. Canvasses decorated with intricate, stenciled patterns originally adorned the room, but the canvasses had been painted over - 19 times.