DC's old Greyhound Bus Terminal, built between 1939 and 1940, is a classic Art Deco landmark, whose streamlined 1930s aesthetic epitomizes the promise of the industrial age as the hope for the future and the savior of civilization. The stepped central tower, a typical "ziggurat" 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 patrons to their destinations.
The building is the work of Louisville-based architect William S. Arrasmith, who designed more than 50 streamlined bus stations for Greyhound in the 1930s and 1940s. The building's exterior is faced in Indiana limestone and neatly rimmed along its upper edges with glazed black terracotta coping. Aluminum trim and glass-block accentuate the entrance. Inside is a large, round central waiting room with stores on either side, In its heyday, the floor was a jazzy checkerboard terrazzo, and large photo murals of scenic places throughout the United States adorned the upper portions of the walls.
For more than 40 years, from 1940 to the early 1980s, this Greyhound Bus Lines Super Terminal was an important transportation hub for the city. Notably, during this time it served as the departure point for Freedom Ride 1961, sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Intended to test the enforcement of the Supreme Court decisions that had ruled bus segregation unconstitutional, a bus departing from this station, as well as one departing from the nearby Trailways station, took Black and white riders through several Southern states. With interracial pairs sitting together in the bus seats and Black riders stationed at the front of the bus, the rides did not encounter trouble as they departed DC, but as they traveled further south, the Freedom Riders faced mobs and organized violence. The Freedom Ride became a significant moment for the Civil Rights Movement.
Threatened with demolition after its closure in the 1980s, the Greyhound Bus Terminal was saved by preservationists from the DC Preservation League, the Art Deco Society of Washington, and the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, who mobilized quickly and successfully to have the building added to the DC Inventory of Historic Sites. Much of the building survives today as the entrance pavilion to an office building, constructed on the site in 1991.
DC Inventory: March 4, 1987