London's St. Pancras station immediately became an icon when it opened in 1868. Its arched glass ceiling stretched overhead for 243 ft. (74 m), flooding the terminal with sunlight. Religious imagery adorned its neo-Gothic façade, and spires reached for the heavens. But maintaining that splendor proved difficult. Despite surviving the London Blitz and a planned demolition in 1966, the station fell into disrepair and became more synonymous with drug dealers and prostitutes than with imperial grandeur.
Now it is getting a second chance. After a three-year, $1.6 billion renovation, St. Pancras will reopen on Nov. 14 as London's new gateway to the Continent, replacing Waterloo Station as the Eurostar terminal. The new location will shave 20 minutes off the travel time to central Paris and better integrate Europe's high-speed rail network with Britain's train system.
But the 21st century St. Pancras aspires to more than efficiency. Ben Ruse, spokesman for the redevelopment, expects it will become a popular destination "whether you're getting on a train or not," much like New York's Grand Central is today. Restaurants, shops and a daily farmers' market crowd the red-brick arches leading to the Rendezvous, an airy social space adjacent to the 13 train platforms. There, guests can admire The Meeting Place, a 30-ft. (9 m) high bronze statue of two travelers locked in an embrace, or mingle at a dazzling 295-ft. (90 m) champagne bar Europe's longest. For a station that has survived bombs, bulldozers and decay, it's finally time for a toast.