Old Greyhound Bus Terminal: 1100 New York Avenue

Citation: AgnosticPreachersKid at en.wikipedia. Retrieved December 9, 2012 with permission.

Citation: AgnosticPreachersKid at en.wikipedia. Retrieved December 9, 2012 with permission.

Approaching preservation from the standpoint of sustainability has its followers, and yet, Bill Rees (1998 and 1999) argues

…designers, planners, architects, builders have as yet not realized their role in sustainability. (Cooper, 1999).

I am not yet ready to argue that argument, not because I don’t believe it, but because I have not yet completed the needed research; it’s a work in progress at the moment, taking a lot of time among all the other works in progress.  Still, it is an issue that has been on my mind since the realization that preservation is about more than restoring a building; it’s about having a plan in place, and a use for the building that enables us to sustain the salvation of the material structure, as opposed to wasting money to restore, and then let it deteriorate yet again.  So, when in my recent bus tour of Washington, DC, we drove past this building, I had no idea of its former life, I just knew that it was a beautiful building and I did my best to photograph it from the top of a moving bus–never much of a good idea.

Bus terminal

I was not sure if it was just a really cool new take on Art Moderne, or an old building, but I knew it was intriguing.  I finally got around to checking on it, and it turns out that the front of the building is the former Greyhound Super Terminal, constructed in 1940.  The terminal was designed by William S.  Arrasmith of Louisville, who designed at least 50 Greyhound terminals, including the one in Clarksdale, Mississippi.  Neither of these photographs does justice to the building, but you can get a better sense of the building in all its former glory at the Streets of Washington site, especially the post card rendering.

The DC Preservation League, Art Deco Society of Washington, and the Committee of 100 on the Federal City all collaborated to save the terminal, which “survives today nearly intact” (streetsofwashington.com).   That is apparently indeed fortunate, if you look at the remodeling photograph from the 1977 re-do (you will have to scroll down the Streets of Washington link from above, as it will not permit me to directly link the photograph)!  John De Ferrari had this to say about the terminal:

…terminal is a classic art deco (or moderne) landmark with a streamline 1930s look that epitomizes the promise of the industrial age as the hope for the future and the savior of our civilization. (streetsofwashington.com)

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the industrial age epitomized civilization’s salvation, and might go so far as to say it appears to be having a lot with the demise instead, but nonetheless, I can agree that architecture was intended to give promise and hope, and certainly coming out of the Great Depression, Art Moderne looked hopeful and clean.  De Ferrari continued:

…stepped central tower, a typical ‘ziggerat’ design, exudes freshness and optimism, with its clean, triumphal lines…the smoothed corners and streamlined look of course, also suggest the speed with which Greyhound’s Super Coaches were to whisk you to your destination.

The terminal is faced in Indiana limestone and trimmed with glazed black terra-cotta coping on the upper edges.  Glass-block accents the front, and the entry doors are aluminum and glass.

front doors

The postmodern skyscraper rising behind the terminal was designed by Keyes Condon Florence Eichbaum Esocoff King, and completed in 1991 (Emporis.com).  The 12-floor high rise is situated on an entire city block.  The former Greyhound bus terminal serves as the lobby for the new building.

new front

Courtesy Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress

Courtesy Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress

This photograph was taken in preparation for the horrendous “renovation” of 1977, visible at the link above.  Here, they are placing the structure on which to adhere the metal mansard roof.  Yes, let’s cover that beautiful design of limestone and terracotta with a plain ole metal panel painted dark green, and get rid of some of that glass so it will be darker inside.  But as De Ferrari noted, “they weren’t the only ones architecturally adrift during that time.”

Courtesy of Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress

Courtesy of Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress

In another historical reference, on May 4, 1961, and interracial group of six boarded a bus at the station to begin the Freedom Ride to New Orleans, challenging segregation laws in interstate bus travel (culturaltourismdc.org).  Could you get on the bus?

In 1961, segregation sseemed to have an overwhelming grip on American society.  Many states violently enforced the policy, while the federal government, under the Kennedy administration, remained indifferent, preoccupied with matters abroad.  That is, until an integrated band of college students–many of whom were the first in their families to attend a university–decided, en masse, to risk everything and buy a ticket on a Greyhound bus bound for the Deep South.  They called themselves the Freedom Riders, and they managed to bring the president and the entire American public face to face with the challenge of correcting civil rights inequities that plagued the nation. (Freedom Riders, 2011)


Cooper, I. (1999). Which focus for building assessment methods: Environmental performance or sustainability?  Building Research & Information, 27(4/5). 321-331.

This entry was posted in Art Deco architecture, Art Moderne, DC, Modernism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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