Although America has a rich locomotive history our current car culture has all but completely steamrolled passenger train travel prominence. When globe trotting the world, beautiful symbols of train travel pepper history’s greatest 19th century industrial nations. They stand as awe-inspiring welcoming mats – Hello, come on in and oh by the way, this terminal contains more steel than your country consumed in the last ten years. One hundred and fifty year old arcaded structures are still imposing stunning first impressions on millions of backpackers throughout Europe. Even those countries that have seen tremendous falls from grace at the beginning of the 20th century like Budapest continue to serve any who care in opulent cafes on white table clothed tables and red velvet chairs by white gloved waiters in a tradition almost as antique to modern folk as the castle museum relics.
But in America, we too did have some Beau Arts beauties to brag upon. Unfortunately, for the sake of progression and revitalization, function always trumps form in the America and we tore nearly all of them down. The list of those that fell victim reads like war casualty list – tragic and irreplaceable. Here in Columbus, only a solitary arch remains as a reminder of the elegant Union Station – a bit of trivia that only a fraction of a percent of those who pass it daily are privy too. And the demolition of New York’s Pennsylvania Station in 1963 may be the most egregious act of defamation ever conducted in America and one of the most tragic architectural losses of the 20th century. Where we tore our gems down European cities who have a much longer history to protect and have gotten creative when a station was no longer useful or sustainable. Paris saved their Gare d’Orsay from the wrecking ball and converted the masterpiece into a museum, the Musee d’Orsay, with the structure itself being one its greatest showpieces.
Thankfully, misguided New York city planners never got their grubby paws on Grand Central Terminal. And let’s hope we’ve learned from past transgressions and no one ever does.