Old School Film Hack

Art deco & buses… who knew?


Congrats go to Elisa and Tillerman on this one… Elisa for figuring correctly that the photo from yesterday was related to mass transit and Tillerman for ultimately deducing the correct answer after her clue.

A postcard view of the terminal, circa 1960 — via Streets of Washington

Yes, the image from yesterday is the former Greyhound terminal on New York Avenue, a $1 million art deco masterpiece that opened to a crowd of 25,000 people back in March 1940, who marveled at the air-conditioned, streamlined-looking, leather and aluminum interior.

But that’s not how I remembered it.

What I remember was an ugly, squat, and forlorn-looking building that looked like it fell out of an ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.

The same terminal in the late 1970s — via Streets of Washington

The same terminal in the late 1970s — via Streets of Washington

By that time, the building looked like nothing of its former glory: the beautiful art deco exterior was hidden, as if in shame.  The interior was mostly painted in drab shades of blue and gray — the corporate colors of Greyhound — and whatever was left of the grand opening elegance was long-lost in the past; it was dirty, worn, smelled of diesel fuel and worse, and it had a ghastly fluorescent lighting pallor that made it look like it was on its deathbed.  The bus station I knew was simply a visual blight on the landscape in a part of town that wasn’t very respectable, as it was past the red-light district of 14th Street of NW and deep into the urban decay between 11th and 12th Streets.

The period that I used the terminal was while I was attending college down in Richmond, between 1979 and 1983.  At that time, Greyhound and Trailways were fierce competitors and I would alternate between the two, typically going with the company that had the cheaper ticket back up to DC.  At some point, I remember Greyhound moved their operations from this building to another one that was much more modern down by Union Station, though that place wasn’t in the best of neighborhoods either.

Fortunately, a funny thing happened on the way to the coliseum… the terminal was declared a historical landmark in the 1980s and it ultimately lived to see another day, eventually being completely renovated and reopened as the entrance to a new building that was constructed directly behind it.

But I didn’t know any of that, and I thought it was long gone.

The Art Deco 1100 New York Avenue, NW...

The Art Deco 1100 New York Avenue, NW in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fast forward to 2007, when I attended the nearby FOSE IT Expo and was looking for place to rest my tired feet and have a bite to eat afterward.  As I was walking down the street, I marveled at the beautiful new art deco building that had sprung up in the exact spot that the hideous Greyhound station had occupied during my college days, and I thought it was very forward thinking on the part of the city fathers to have some retro architecture being reintroduced to the big city.

Imagine my shock and delight when I discovered that the art deco beauty was what had been hidden by the ugly 1970s façade!  Truly, it’s a glorious space now.

So if you’re ever in the neighborhood looking for a place to wet your parched lips, stop by and grab a pint of local micro-brew at the Capitol City Brewing Company, which is located to the rear of the new complex, and afterward stroll through the building and see a marvelous example of art deco architecture.

You won’t regret it.

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