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Must-See RVA! — Broad Street Station

A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.

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AKA Science Museum of Virginia
2500 West Broad Street
Built, 1919
Architect, John Russell Pope
VDHR 127-0226

A massive neoclassical temple from the Golden Age of Railroads.

(LOC) — John Russell Pope, rocking his best Howard Roark look

Richmond’s Broad Street Station ranks among the Commonwealth’s most distinguished and ambitious works of architecture. The design for this monumental edifice was provided by John Russell Pope, one of the most prominent architects of his day, whose work includes the designs for such nationally famous landmarks as the Jefferson Memorial and the National Gallery of Art.

[OHFYH] — 1926

Completed in 1919, after a construction period of two years, Broad Street Station was among the last of the great rail terminals to be built in what has been termed the “Golden Age of Railroads.”

(VDHR) — 1971 nomination photo

Pope’s monumental design symbolizes the importance that train travel once had in America. Neoclassical in form, the station is dominated by a vast, domed, central waiting room, flanked by two wings, and a long projection or concourse on the rear from which access to the tracks is obtained. A passenger enters the static via a hexa-style-in-antis, Roman Doric portico surmounted by a full entablature and a parapet. The interior of the portico has a coffered, barrel vaulted ceiling. Crowning the central portion of the building is a saucer shaped, copper dome, supported on a low octagonal drum with large lunettes on its four greater sides. The three-storied wings are separated by simple pilasters into three bays on their front and rear facades and six bays on their sides. There are cast-iron and glass canopies supported by ornamental brackets around the first fl’or level of each of the wings for passenger unloading. The entablature and a slight parapet continue around the wings and into the long, rear concourse.

In June, 1951, a section of the massive dome slipped because of lightening damage. One hundred twenty feet of a concrete ledge surrounding the dome collapsed and loosened the tile covering of the dome. This necessitated the removal of the rest of the tile, and a replacement with copper sheathing.

May 2018

Unlike many stations of its era, Broad Street does not have one large train shed, but rather, a series of covered platforms below the concourse supported by cast-iron Ionic columns. The placement of the station on a promontory of land created an ideal position for the tracks at the base of the slope.

May 2018

Entrance to the station can also be had from the one-story east west axis, which crosses the longitudinal axis just behind the main lobby. At the intersection, there is a square hall with a high, flat, coffered ceiling. Four Ionic, granite columns demarcate this passage on the northern and southern sides.

The interior of the station has a long axis running north – south, crossed by a shorter east-west axis. From the portico, one enters an expansive, octagonal-shaped space which serves as the main waiting room. On each of the four larger sides of the octagon is an arch. Two of the arches are supported by two Ionic columns, and two are blocked in with granite and decorated with Ionic pilasters. The soffits of the arches are lined with rosetted coffers. Above each of the arches is a large lunette, underlined by a dentiled cornice which circumscribes the room.

[OHFYH]

The four smaller angles of the octagon have semi-circular niches, lined with rosetted coffers, leading to smaller waiting and baggage rooms. The dome arches 94 feet over this whole section, which contains the ticket counter and mahogany benches for waiting passengers.

[CRVA] — former Byrd Street Station — 1940s

Broad Street Station replaces two earlier stations that served the historic Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. When its immediate predecessor, located between Byrd, Canal, Seventh, and Eighth Streets, became too crowded to handle both comuter and long distance passengers, it was decided to reroute the larger passenger trains to the west end of town and erect a new terminal to serve them. The grounds of the Hermitage Country Club were chosen as the site of Pope’s neo-classic edifice.

[OHFYH]

Although the volume of traffic through the station has greatly dwindled in recent years, Broad Street Station still serves the trains of the R.F. &P. and the Seaboard Coast Line Railroads, and also houses the central offices of the R.F.&P. Despite its decline as a major transportation center the station remains a monument of civic and commercial pride expressei through architecture. (VDHR)

So wrote Elizabeth Cheek for the Department of Historic Resources in 1971, and the decline was clearly the writing on the wall. Amtrak moved all passenger train operations to the new Staples Mill Road station in November 1975, and Broad Street Station was sold to the Commonwealth the following year.

May 2018

Fortunately that was not the end of the story. The same month it was sold, the former station became the new location of the Science Museum of Virginia, and the train kept on rolling. Governor Mills Godwin unveiled the museum’s first permanent exhibit gallery in 1977, and in 1983 Ethyl Corporation helped fund the addition of The Dome, an OMNIMAX theatre and planitarium.

May 2018

Today, the Science Museum is a worthy steward of this handsome building, expanding exhibit space in 2013, and adding an SR-71 Blackbird in 2016. Alas, the fly in the ointment is the ruined view from Broad Street, courtesy the insidious Tree Architecture Conspiracy.

(Broad Street Station is part of the Atlas RVA Project)


Sources

  • [CRVA] Celebrate Richmond. Elizabeth Dementi, Wayne Dementi, Corrine Hudgins. 1999.
  • [OHFYH] One Hundred Fifty Years of History Along the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. William E. Griffin, Jr. 1984.

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