Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 6, 2016

Greyhound, Gone to Dogs

Greyhound has abandoned its bus station at 1005 First St. NE and moved to Union Station. Perseus Realty purchased the property from Greyhound for $46.75 million last year and plans to replace it with mixed-use development. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Greyhound’s recent move to abandon its bleak NoMa digs at 1005 First St. NE for a consolidated terminal at Union Station is a poignant reminder of the bus line’s old Art Deco digs.

The ’Hound abandoned its architectural masterpiece at 1100 New York Ave. NW in the dark days of the 1970s in favor of the Trailways terminal, a building with all the charm of Eastern bloc Stalinism that will soon meet the wrecking ball.

Inhabitants of NoMa’s rapidly expanding business district likely won’t miss that structure, with its shabby concrete facade, strange smells and atmosphere of urban decay.

Perseus Realty purchased the property from Greyhound for $46.75 million last year and plans to replace it with mixed-use development.

This latest chapter in the Greyhound terminal’s saga only makes the history of its predecessor all the more sad. The old Art Deco gem opened with much fanfare in March 1940 on New York Avenue. “25,000 gawkers filed in, admiring the stylish decor, all the leather and aluminum. A swing band played,” local historian John DeFerrari writes at his blog, Streets of Washington.

The station became known as the Ellis Island of Washington and was bustling with metropolitan flair. But demographic shifts and urban decline took a toll, and by the mid-1970s the station had become a tarnished souvenir of a bygone era left to rot in a rough neighborhood.

In a brief, misguided attempt to modernize, the building’s curved facade was shrouded in 1976 by a boxy mansard roof and asbestos panels.

In 1983, Greyhound announced plans to sell the property, relocating in 1985 to the Trailways terminal, the now-abandoned NoMa eyesore.

Recognizing the potential obscured by urban decline and that cringe-inducing mansard roof, the Art Deco Society of Washington waged a long battle to preserve the old building. In the ’80s, it filed an application for historic landmark status for the property.

Thus ensued the Great Greyhound Debate. Redevelopment endured fits and starts as various plans were submitted and rejected by the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board, sometimes accompanied by colorful criticism.

The coalition that rallied to save the old station (the DC Preservation League, the Art Deco Society of Washington and the Committee of 100 on the Federal City) decried one plan as an attempt to turn the building into a “Disneyland facade” or a “hood ornament,” according to a 1988 Washington Post report.

The same article quotes Post architecture critic Wolf von Eckardt skewering one plan as a “case of macho, lewd showmanship” that resembled “the grinning mouth of a giant spitting out a fly.”

Eventually a plan was approved, and the renovated terminal reopened in 1991 as the entrance pavilion for the high rise that occupies the space now.

As if to punctuate the differences in the two buildings, the response to Greyhound’s latest move has largely been mute, a deafening silence for an ugly relic.

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    The now abandoned Greyhound Terminal on 1005 1st St. NE may not be glamorous, but it’s a typical Greyhound station. In a lot of ways it looks similar to other Greyhound terminals in other major cities, but it also looks different in a lot of other ways, and that’s what makes it unique and beautiful (in a weird way). I know that not too many people share my point of view, but I think it would be another really sad loss for Washington D.C. if this building gets demolished. I mean, Washington D.C. has already lost way too many buildings within these last 10 years (due to demolition). Enough is enough! As I said, the Greyhound terminal may not be glamorous, but it does have character and it certainly has more character than all of these new buildings that are constantly going up. I just hope that somebody will see my point of view and help me out here. Even if the Greyhound terminal never gets used as a Greyhound station again, I hope the developers will at least have enough heart to use all (or some) of the current structure into their new development. It could be made into something really awesome (like the entrance into a big office building, for example)! It could be used in so many different ways. Just please don’t tear it down!

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