If you read my first blog about Elvis in Virginia's capital city, you'll know that I was feeling a little lost, trying to determine where Elvis was when Alfred Wertheimer snapped the singer's photo in an unremarkable train station hallway on June 30, 1956.
This much I did know: There were two major stations in the area during that period, and one was Main Street Station. Now just a few feet away from the gravity-defying ramps of Interstate 95, this stunning Renaissance Revival building opened in 1901 and must have been the Grand Dame of the city. Even today, it's a remarkable structure with a commanding clock tower and Beaux Arts details that will knock your architectural socks off.
Needless to say, Main Street Station was a good place to start, especially since it was so close to Elvis' next destination that day--the Jefferson Hotel. I arranged a tour of the building with Diane Lillo and Viktoria Badger, who were both versed in the maintenance, history, and resurrection of Main Street Station.
After introductions, I opened my Elvis at 21, Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer book and said, "Recognize this hallway?" The book automatically fell to the spread of Elvis walking out the train station doors. (I've looked at the image so many times, the books seems to remember to take me there.)
Neither woman could identify the corridor, or the set of doors, or the broad stone tiles on the floor. We flipped through stacks of archival images, glossy pictures of a golden age in rail travel, and older sepia-toned photos that showed horse-drawn carriages waiting for passengers under the elevated train tracks. No connections. What did seem clear was that the photo wasn't taken in the main lobby or any of the other rooms that made up the public quarter of the station.
We needed to search out that hallway on foot. Diane and Viktoria took me back to a set of locked doors. (This is where things always get interesting, right?) With the clanking of chains and keys, the door opened to a massive train shed--the place where passengers would have boarded trains to Anywhere, U.S.A. Divided hallways and new interior walls made this a labyrinth of modern reuse and one that would difficult to de-construct to its former self. Still, I wanted to look into all the possibilities.
And, there was the water tower. In the original 1956 image, there is a very faint outline of a tower above the right door. Could we locate that landmark and thereby determine the location of the hallway? It just so happens that there is a water tower outside the station, in an area of the city called Church Hill; it's clearly visible from the east side of the building. We kept walking. Finally, there was a set of doors. They were dull and metal, instead of wood; they were wider too, with four sets of doors and two glass side lights, but there was a vague similarity. The true badge would be that water tower. Viktoria unlocked the doors, and there it was--in nearly the same spot as it appeared in the original photo.
We had exhausted our possibilities in the station. This had to be it, but I wasn't feeling overly confident. I returned to main part of the station and was quickly introduced to one more person, as Viktoria summed up the picture puzzle I was trying to solve.
"Oh, no," the newcomer said matter-of-factly. "That's not taken here. That's at Broad Street Station."
Well, in the next entry, I'm headed there. Jump to the next story in this series . . .
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