Widely regarded as “the last of the great train stations”, Los Angeles Union Station is the largest railroad passenger terminal in the Western United States.
Originally known as the “Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal”, it was intended to serve as a consolidation of the three local railroad terminals and the railroads they had served (Southern Pacific, Union Pacific and Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe) with construction costs shared by these railroads.
Designed in a unique blend of Spanish Colonial, Mission Revival and Art Deco styles by the father-son architect team of John and Donald Parkinson, the facility was completed at a cost of $11 million in 1939 and opened with a lavish, star-studded, three-day celebration attended by a half million Angelenos.
With its vast waiting room and enclosed garden patios, the station itself is a reflection of the grandeur and seductive climate that is Los Angeles. Travelers who strolled to their trains along terra cotta tile floors with their inlaid marble strips walked beside extravagant interior walls designed with both travertine marble and early models of acoustical tiles.
Passengers could visit the famous Harvey House restaurant, located in the southern area of the main building. Designed by famous Southwestern architect Mary Coulter, it was the last of this line of restaurants to be constructed in a passenger terminal.
Within just a few years of opening, Los Angeles Union Station transformed into a bustling 24-hour, seven-day-a-week hive of activity with as many as 100 troop trains carrying tens of thousands of servicemen through the terminal every day during World War II.
But the war ended and so did the rush of passengers, as air and automobile travel became the vogue through the next several decades. By the 1970s, Santa Fe's legendary Super Chief and El Capitan, the Southern Pacific's Sunset Limited and Daylight, and the Union Pacific's City of Los Angeles vanished from the rails.
In 1980, the station was entered into the National Register of Historic Places.
Currently, Los Angeles Union Station is linked to the Patsaouras Transit Plaza, which opened in 1995, and offers transit connections to destinations throughout Los Angeles. It also serves as the primary regional hub for Amtrak’s 36 daily trains and Metrolink’s five-county commuter train service, and as a transfer point for Metro’s Red, Purple and Gold Lines.
In April 2011, Metro completed the acquisition of the Los Angeles Union Station property, including 38 acres and 5.9 million square feet of development rights. Metro will oversee future development of the terminal to meet local office, retail, entertainment and residential needs, as well as Southern California’s evolving transportation system. Activity at the Los Angeles Union Station is expected to surge as expansion of Metro’s system connects more lines into the station.
A grand lady still, Los Angeles Union Station’s best years are yet to come.