When it opened in 1908, Union Station quickly became the primary entry to Washington. The terminal was among the first and finest achievements of the Senate Park Commission (also called the “McMillan Commission”), a board of design professionals determined to beautify Washington. The station itself was grand. Outside, however, a motley assortment of residences, hotels, boardinghouses, and taverns greeted visitors.
City planners and congressional leaders considered the area between Union Station and the Capitol undignified. They proposed clearing it to create a park. The project took $10 million and 30 years to complete (1910-1940). It required buying 18 city squares and demolishing hundreds of buildings. The new park was so successful that some wished to see the proposed Lincoln Memorial built there instead of its eventual site on the Mall.