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WMATA shows off vintage Metrorail construction pictures

WMATA's Metro Forward Facebook page has a fun set of Metrorail construction pictures, dating from the mid-1970s. They're a fascinating look back at a wholly different Washington.

Archives in 1975. Photo from WMATA.

The most interesting may be a 1974 picture of Gallery Place under construction. What's now the Verizon Center is a dirt patch and a collection of holes.

But my favorite is probably the one of Archives station in June, 1975, pictured above. In the picture, workers have yet to add the tracks, platforms, or mezzanines, so the vaulted ceiling runs uninterrupted for the entire length of the station. It looks so much more voluminous!

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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Lots of impressive shots but what I really find amazing is the transformation of downtown Silver Spring from basically a cross street to a dense city.

by Randall M. on Sep 24, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

Beautiful photo of the vaulting and concrete coffers at Archives! Some people complain that Metro's concrete stations remind them of bad 70s architecture. I think of Tron. The architecture is timeless if not vaguely "futuristic.". It would be a shame if Metro covers up the concrete with the paneling proposed initially for the Bethesda Station.

by JohnP on Sep 24, 2013 12:54 pm • linkreport

It does look much more complete and artistically unified when you take out those pesky elements like platforms, stairs, safety railings, etc.

/I'm being silly.

by drumz on Sep 24, 2013 12:58 pm • linkreport

It looks so good becasue the lighting is good. Maybe this shot will inspire them to turn up the lights. And while I love the concrete vautling design, the late 1970's era signage seems so bulky in comparison. Might be time to replace those with a sharp high-tech look to contrast with the clean concrete look.

by Thayer-D on Sep 24, 2013 1:08 pm • linkreport

It was vaguely futuristic. I think it became vaguely dated sometime in the 90s.

by BTA on Sep 24, 2013 1:24 pm • linkreport

Thayer-D, The 1970s original signage was actually quite unobtrusive. They were either the sign pylons (designed by Massimo Vignelli), or the thin rectangular station name signs that some stations still have. Metro has added signage over the years (with annoyingly different versions of Helvetica), and because of Rush Plus some signs have been super-sized. They look horrible. Metro needs to adhere to its graphic standards, or substantially redo them to create some consistency. Maybe WMATA could rehire Vignelli to update the signage? Or some young talented graphic/environmental designer or an established firm like Pentagram.

by John P on Sep 24, 2013 1:26 pm • linkreport

John P - Because of the opening of the Silver Line, Metro is in the process of radically updating its signage (at least in the affected stations). The signs are bigger now and there are 3 different types: the traditional 'this is station X' type; a type that shows you where you are on the line and what stations are ahead; and a type that shows you (in black and white and gray) what amenities are available from a station's different exits.

by JDC Esq on Sep 24, 2013 1:30 pm • linkreport

I think the diamond-shaped sign pylons are pretty horrible. Most importantly, because everything is at the wrong angle, the arrows on them don't really make sense. I hope that design has been abandoned for good.

by Gray on Sep 24, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

I love the design and feel disappointed when i look up and see panels over the concave honeycombs in the ceilings at some stations. Those are ugly and look like cheap foam board ceiling tiles covering up good design and real materials.

The problem is the lighting. Why are the stations so dark?

OT: I also love the quasi-futuristic sparkly white tunnel at terminal A at National. It feels like a set to a sci-fi or James Bond movie made in the 70's. I love it. I will be sorry to see it go.

by Tina on Sep 24, 2013 1:38 pm • linkreport

JDC, thanks for the explanation regarding the Silver Line and affected stations. I still wish the signs were a bit smaller and more unobtrusive. The large signs detract from the stations' simple, elegant design. And I think the entire system should adopt consistent signage for clarity.

by John P on Sep 24, 2013 1:50 pm • linkreport

The reason the stations look so bright in those pictures is that they are new. The clean concrete reflected lots of light - now that it is much dirtier the stations are much darker.

by MLD on Sep 24, 2013 1:58 pm • linkreport

The photographs were also probably exposed for a long time, making them brighter than the human eye would perceive them.

by Neil Flanagan on Sep 24, 2013 2:00 pm • linkreport

now that it is much dirtier the stations are much darker.

Well how hard is it too power wash it once a decade?

by Tina on Sep 24, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

Interesting to see the Archives station, which I have had to come in and out of for the past 3 1/3 years, in its original glory. Too bad they couldn't find a way to build the exit on the south side of the station, would have saved me plenty of walking.

by Ray B on Sep 24, 2013 2:24 pm • linkreport


Not very, which is why they do.

by JDS32 on Sep 24, 2013 2:45 pm • linkreport

@Randall M. -- Well, there was a lot of stuff in downtown Silver Spring in 1975 too; that camera angle just happens to be facing away from nearly all of it. The photo is looking southwest from what appears to be the top of the parking garage at the corner of Ramsey Avenue and Bonifant Street. If the photographer had turned 90 degrees to the right you would have seen plenty of buildings then too.

The big changes between now and then, in terms of that viewing angle, would be the addition of the Silver Spring Metro Center buildings adjacent to the station and the Lenox Park apartment building across the street. Even in the 1975 photo you can see some of the apartments and offices surrounding the Blairs shopping center on the left side of the picture.

by iaom on Sep 24, 2013 3:17 pm • linkreport

@ Tina - one issue is that the way the concrete was created using molds resulted in it being sandblasted after it was taken out of the molds, which created all of these crevices that dirt gets into and that even power washing has been unable to clean. Not that power washing doesn't help.

by JDC Esq on Sep 24, 2013 3:21 pm • linkreport

hrummph. If I was washing it, it would get clean!

by Tina on Sep 24, 2013 3:43 pm • linkreport

Would have been cute if they snuck in some Silver Line construction pics at the end

by Hadur on Sep 24, 2013 4:39 pm • linkreport

Did the Archives station sit unused for a number of years after it was built? The vault was completed by 1975 but the station didn't open until 1983. I suppose it would have made sense to build it at the same time that Gallery Place was being built, because the stations are so close together.

by jimble on Sep 24, 2013 5:33 pm • linkreport

Notice that the station name signs on the walls are still at the setting that is too high to read from inside the trains!

by Capt. Hilts on Sep 24, 2013 5:39 pm • linkreport

@jimble: Archives almost certainly did sit vacant for a number of years. Waterfront station was completed in 1979, but the connecting tunnels were dug in the late 80s, and the station didn't open until 1991.

by aces on Sep 24, 2013 10:15 pm • linkreport

WMATA has painted the concrete in some stations - in some stations a light color, but I think it is Foggy Bottom that is actually painted a darkish brown. ?!?!?! The stations really need some brightening. Even if that violates the principles of brutalism...

by DavidDuck on Sep 24, 2013 10:28 pm • linkreport

Most of the pictures are from the 1980s and 90s. A few from the 1970s. 3 of them have been published before by WMATA. Glenmont, Forest Glen vault arch and Hyattsville Rail.

Cody Phanstiehl and his predecessors took thousands of pictures on 35mm slide stock and later with digital cameras of the construction in the system. This is a tiny sample of the photographic documentation that was done. Here are 2 of my favorites:

Dupont Circle Q Street entrance 09 27 75 flood from the remnants of tropical storm Eloise. That's me on the right.

South end of Dupont Circle before the end walls and mezzanines were built. WMATA photo by Paul Myatt.

The 2 aerial photos of Gallery place are of the construction of the north south Green Yellow part of the station. The Galley Place station was built under 2 different contracts. Excavation of the 7th Street part of the didn't begin until after the G Street part of the station structurally complete and back filled. The 7th and G Street mezzanine under the transept had tile on it before excavation of the 7th Street part station began.

Those panels are in the coffers for a reason. They have acoustical damping material behind them. They are perforated just like the ceiling panels under the mezzanines and in the passageway. The acoustical damping material reduces the echo in the train halls to level similar to that of a concert hall. Extensive testing was done to determine what the appropriate amount of acoustical damping was needed.

WMATA would need to power wash the stations more then once a decade to keep them looking like new. The deterioration of the reflective properties of concrete, because of the accumulation dirt, happen almost immediately after trains start running. It become really obvious after only 18 months.

@Neil Flanagan
The picture of the Archive station looks like it is over exposed. Thought I was not present when that picture was taken I did have the opportunity visit the station under those light conditions a couple of times. The station was not as bright as it appears in that picture.

Construction on the Archive station began in the mid 1970s it was structurally complete before the first segment opened on 03 27 1976. The Waterfront station was under construction around the same time.

by Sand Box John on Sep 24, 2013 11:48 pm • linkreport

@Sand box John, yes I know the panels have a function. However its their form I commented on. They are ugly (visually) and detract from the design and original building material.

Were acoustics that bad? Why does the train platform need acoustics similar to a concert hall? Its not a concert hall. hell buskers aren't even allowed!

by Tina on Sep 25, 2013 1:28 am • linkreport

I see the lighting of those caves was far better during construction than now. Cannot wait for the new lighting they are said to be rolling out.

by AndrewJ on Sep 25, 2013 7:18 am • linkreport

@Tina: Their purpose is not to improve acoustics, but to dampen sound and decrease echo. Without them the platforms would be even louder. I understand not liking their appearance, but they definitely serve a purpose.

by Gray on Sep 25, 2013 8:44 am • linkreport


You are the only person I have come across that dislikes the presents of the acoustical panels in the coffers. I had the opportunity to see most of the stations before the installation of the acoustical panels. I happen to approve of their presents, it makes the stark lines of the deeper coffers softer.

Without the acoustical damping you can here the sound of a book being dropped in the entire station. The echo decay for louder noises would extend for 10 seconds or more.

If you think the public address is bad now, with no acoustical treatment the announcements from a person with the best diction would be unhearable because of a combination of the echo and the delay from the sound coming from the multiple speaker in the station.

by Sand Box John on Sep 25, 2013 8:59 am • linkreport

@ Gray: "Their purpose is not to improve acoustics, but to dampen sound and decrease echo."

Sound dampening and echo decreasing ARE improving acoustics.

by Michael on Sep 25, 2013 11:10 am • linkreport

@Michael: Well, okay, but she seemed to be interpreting "improving acoustics" as "making the space more like a concert hall." This is only true in the narrow sense that otherwise, it would be too loud.

by Gray on Sep 25, 2013 11:24 am • linkreport


Those pants are great!

If I may ask, what was your role in construction?

And thanks for the pictures and stories!

by DavidDuck on Sep 25, 2013 9:27 pm • linkreport

You are not the first person to comment on those pants.

I had no roll in the construction. My access was one of the benefits I got from assisting Cody Phanstiehl, then Director of the Office of Community Service at WMATA, in the conducting walking tours of the construction. I was an unpaid volunteer as was the other person seen in the picture. I still have the white Metro hardhat Cody gave me and use it when taking pictures of the Silver line.

Between tours Cody, Randy (the other person in the picture) and I would visit other areas that were under construction that were not part of the routine tours.

I stepped aboard one of the first pairs of 1k cars shortly after they arrived on the property. Road my bicycle from National Airport to Stadium-Armory. Climbed the stairs in many of the vent and fan shafts. I have been on top of the vault arch in the Dupont circle station. I have crawled through the cable chases and ventilation tunnels under the platforms. Been in many of the ancillary spaces that are beyond the end walls of the stations.

by Sand Box John on Sep 26, 2013 12:07 am • linkreport

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