On July 23, 2011, I recited these design stories at the Boston Globe for my friends at Ink, stories inspired by the work of Frederick Law Olmsted and the impact his legacy has had on my life in particular, and three American cities – Seattle, DC, and Baltimore – in general. Each story takes place in a natural urban setting influenced or designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. This is the sixth essay in a collection of eight.
The Bike Station is just around the corner from Union Station Plaza. For about a year, I parked my fixie there. In out. Up down. DC is hot for bikes. I’d come in after a hard day’s work building frameworks for stories, roll my bike high up onto the metal rack, put it to sleep like a baby.
Morning night, everyday, five days a week. Starting and ending under a roof that Daniel Burnham built isn’t a bad way to live. Time-consuming, maybe, but lovely. Burnham was the architect of Union Station. Was the chief architect of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, too. Olmsted designed the grounds. Have you read The Devil In the White City? Go buy yourself a copy. You’ll love it. I swear.
Union Station is most beautiful during the golden hour. But then again, what isn’t most beautiful then? Sherbet shadows, golden, orange and pink. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were in Paris. Or maybe Rome. Although one of my friends said DC reminds him of London. The point is, East Coast cities are far more European than West Coast ones. Because most West Coast cities aren’t, you know. That European. They’re all too shiny and glossy and Corbusier new.
The circular drive where she waited long, he picked me up, I ushered out. That place. Grand, majestic, magnificent. People swarming. Tourists buses, taxis, diplomats and senators wrapped in wool trenchcoats, choked with ties. Over the treetops, anorexic in the winter, full-figured in the summer, you can see the Capitol from there. Like catching a glimpse of a familiar face in a crowded room. That’s right. Around the marble, through the bell. The U.S. Capitol. It’s awe-inspiring, regardless of which side of the political spectrum you fall. The greatest country of all, China rising be damned. Just look at this grand, beautiful country. America the Beautiful, the Powerful. We have the architecture to prove it.
I miss Union Station sometimes. And the Capitol and the Mall and my friend, Abe Lincoln. But the nice thing is, they’re all just a short train ride away.