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Union Station: 1943

Union Station: 1943

Washington, 1943. A study in contrasts at Union Station. View full size. 4x5 Kodachrome transparencies, photographer unknown. Office of War Information.


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Mama why did you take my Kodachrome away?

I still have 73 rolls of Kodachrome 64 in my fridge. It was the greatest color slide film ever made. If I remember correctly it color stability is projected to be close to 200 years.

How many of these millions of digital images will be readable 200 years down the line. How many of us have a 5¼ or 3½ drive on our computers any more? I have images from my old Commodore Amiga 500 that are inaccessible to me because the floppies or the CD have deteriorated. So much for permanent digital storage.

[200 years from now, our reservations about "permanent digital storage" will doubtless seem rather quaint. - Dave]

Suddenly '43

Jason Powell photographs old pictures in their modern-day environments (and I think it's awesome). The left half of this photo's in there too!

67 years later

I located the same exact spot where this picture was taken, and took another picture of what it looks like today.

What's interesting is that the lamp posts are still in their exact same locations -- Even the two-headed lamp post off in the distance. The view of Union Station is pretty much obscured by trees now, but you can still make out the rooftop.

Click to enlarge.

Union Station Today

In addition to other differences noted by others, the grassy area between the woman and Union Station is now lined by trees that have grown up so that the view of Union Station is not nearly as clear and direct anymore. Also, Columbus Circle is now lined with the flags of all 50 states plus territories.
This is a great historical photo.

Obviously not identical

These amateur photoanalysts must be blind. The background is obviously not identical -- the rightmost flag is waving and is in different positions between the two photos.

(More questionable is the digital "213" on the edges. But that's outside the area of the film itself.)

[The 213 frame number ("digital" only in the sense that it's composed of digits), made with a pin register, will be familiar to anyone who works with old large-format Kodachromes. The backgrounds aren't "identical" (and who said they were?) because these are two different photographs. The point is that they were taken the same day. Which we know because of the cars in the background. - Dave]

Union Station

I commute via Union Station daily, Irish pubs there are just like Ruby Tuesdays, more like a bar than a restaurant. No seven course gourmet dinner. My first date with my wife was this Irish pub.

The look of Today

I agree that Kodachrome is a wonder film, but don't discount the size of the negative (120 or 4x5) and the quality of the lenses. I use a Mamiya RB67 with fuji chromes and the images just pop out and poke your eyeballs.

Get out there and shoot some film folks! 50 Years from now, perhaps our pics will be posted on Shorpy.

The look of today

In response to everyone who wondered if such a photo could be taken today, I would suggest that a women sitting outside Union Station in that particular pose nowadays would be reading a text message on her cell phone or Blackberry.

Re: The Old Look

Unless I've missed something, only Kodachrome 25 and 200 have been discontinued, and Duane's in Kansas still processes Kodachrome 64. In any event, the Kodachrome in all these 4x5s is a lot different than today's film. The present emulsion is a lot more accurate than the pre-1961 film, which was slow (ASA 10) and featured bright reds and blues, so the film everyone's been mourning in these comments has been gone over 45 years. I think what catches the eye here is the tremendous detail captured in the large format. I used to go out photographing with a friend with Kodak Elite in both my Nikon and his 4x5 view camera. We would photograph the same scenes, but it was no contest. His transparencies were amazing, and would blow mine away.

The Old Look

Interestingly to me, when it comes to trying to re-create the look and feel of another time, it's high-end fashion photography that routinely, and lovingly, does this. I would even go further and say it's specifically gay men in fashion who truly adore and appreciate old photos and styles, and are attentive to subtle details in fashion, or eyebrows, or heels, very precise as to the 'when' something was chic.

But as someone said, and I've independently looked into, Kodachrome is shutting down. The one place to get it developed is in Scandinavia! And that's just for the moment, til it becomes a loss. It's a very hard look to replicate, that Kodachrome vibrancy.

(I'm "Miss Kodachrome" commenter 1)

Washington Redux

Thanks, Anonymous Tipster - I would love to see the photo re-shot. I used to know this area well, too. It was on my path to Union Station to catch the Red Line to Bethesda. The recent posting "Battle Stations" appears to have been shot from the same plaza/park.

Goober Pea

The look of the day

I could never watch the Korean War show "M*A*S*H" because Alan Alda had a 1970's haircut. Similarly, in the otherwise excellent movie "The Last Picture Show," set in 1951, Jeff Bridges' character is seen near the end in his Class A uniform visiting Anarene just after Army basic training, sporting hair much longer than a 1951 soldier ever would have had (especially one just out of basic). Argh. Ruins it. How hard is it to give a guy an authentic haircut?

Union Station Ladies

The Location for these pictures has not changed. I work across the street from this location. It is the little park adjacent to the Russell Senate Office building. Still looks essentially the same, except the street lights are gone. Same aggregate concrete floor. They are sitting on the wall next to the steps leading down to North Capitol Street. The woman is facing west toward the Teamsters building.

Strikingly clear day, no jet contrails spoling the view.

I tell you what, I will bring in my camera and recreate this view for you.

Union Station From Above

Union Station from above. Click to pan (Google Maps).

Actually, Charlene...

I just saw the movie "Chinatown" again, recently, and Faye Dunaway sported a very authentic thirties pencilled-in eyebrow line. I loved the "look" in that film

Re-creating the Look of the Day

I agree, Charlene.
Hollywood movies SEEM to re-create the past regularly, but they rarely do it exactly. Their purpose is entertainment, not historical education.

An example being westerns made in the fifties. The men sported 50's American ducktail haircuts, and the women had fifties make-up. In the sixties, the men finally got some longer hair, but the women had those huge "sixties" false eylashes. The result? You can tell the decade a western was made, even if they all are supposed to be set in the mid to late 1800s. Today, they do tend to be more subdued in westerns, but they still make concessions to modern tastes.

That's what I love about this site. For us history lovers, we are getting the real thing. Almost as good as time travel!


Kodachrome is wonderful stuff, but Kodak is gradually curtailing its manufacture. It is getting difficult to find processors for it. Mama is indeed taking our Kodachrome away and it will be a great loss.

Looking at these images makes me want to throw rocks at digital cameras.

Union Station today

It would be possible to re-create this photo, though some of the features have changed. Google does not offer a "streetview" of this location (national security?), but if you look at the satellite view of the point where E Street NE and Massachusetts Ave. and Columbus Circle converge - just north of the Capitol, you can get an idea of the photo's location.

It appears that a parking lot (natch) is now situated where the lady and the girl are posed in the photo. Perhaps Columbus Circle has been enlarged since the photo was taken - this is a busy intersection today.

About a block away - southwest down E Street - are two good Irish pubs side by side. Irish seven-course gourmet dinner? A six-pack and a baked potato!

Goober Pea

The look of the day

A costumer could easily copy her outfit, a hairstylist could create the hairstyle, and a makeup artist could reproduce the cosmetic style. The biggest obstacle is actually the eyebrows - eyebrow style in women changes from decade to decade, and it's the rare model who will allow a photographer to reshape her browline.

Twin City

I'm always fascinated by the comments, often provoked by Kodachrome color, that the picture looks like it could be "yesterday," or today.

Granted, the color is impressive, and the details are sharp. But - and I would love to see an experiment along these lines - how close could we come to duplicating a shot like this (say, the adult woman) today?

Assuming the buildings are still there, and look much the same; catch the weather and light the same way, and assume we get a similar looking model, and carefully dress her to look like this; using professional technology, could a photographer make a picture taken today look like this? I have a sneaking suspicion each age and era has its own "look", and it's impossible to fully re-create it.

Any more of these?

You can see the same car parked beyond the stone wall in the background of both photos, so I'm guessing these images were taken on the same day. I wonder if there are any more? It appears the photographer was taking candid shots of people who didn't know they were being photographed as they sat on that wall, so why would he/she stop at two? (Unless the photographer's intent was to specifically show the "contrast" between these two people.)

[There are more from the same general location. These people would have known their pictures were being taken, what with the big camera and tripod a few feet away. The little girl is shown in three different poses. - Dave]

Side by Side

I agree, I love this very much, and the crispness of it, ahhh, it just leaves me haunted. It's as if, when things were black and white and "dated" looking, they could still be haunted and "distant," but they were easier to keep in the past. Whereas with these images, yes, it's haunting, it's like being there *now*.

As for the "contrast," obvious things aside, doesn't the little girl have personality?

A Bit Confused

I have to admit I am a bit confused. Is this two different photos taken years apart? If so then i have a real problem with the shadows on the wall across from where both people are sitting. Strikes me as photoshop had something to do with this. Plus, and this too seems odd but nothing of the surrounding area has changed? I am a bit skeptical.

[I'm confused, too. About why you are confused. Why would you ask if these photos are supposed to have been taken years apart? They were taken in 1943, as stated in the caption. On the same day. - Dave]

Miss Kodachrome

The ladies sure liked their lipstick RED then eh?

Again, I cannot believe the crisp vividness of Kodachrome transparencies. A 1943 movie on TV will look like a century ago, and this looks like yesterday. You could count the pebbles in the pavement.

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