The railroads' hesitation was not without merit. The Great Depression hit the country hard and passenger traffic dropped precipitously, remaining low throughout the 1930s. They simply felt there was no need to build a costly terminal, which would never meet capacity. However, having lost their court fight the trio begrudgingly submitted proposals and the commission selected a stub-ended design in early 1932. Yet, for another year the three railroads continued to fight the terminal's construction but finally announced on June 16, 1933 they would suspend these efforts. What became known as Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT) was located within Los Angeles' original Chinatown along what is today North Alameda Street and East Cesar E. Chavez Avenue.
Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal Is Built
As Brian Solomon notes in his book, "Railway Depots, Stations & Terminals," Los Angeles Union Station is often credited as being the last great passenger terminal built in this country. Its architecture was a mix of California’s traditional mission-style with Art Deco touches. The facility, utilizing 25.5 acres, was completed at a cost of $11 million in 1939 financed by the Union Pacific, Santa Fe, and Southern Pacific. The history of what would become LAUPT dates back to 1926 when the city gave residents the option of voting for a new train station or build an "L", also known as an elevated railroad. They would narrowly pass the measure and despite some the previously mentioned controversy the new station greatly improved traffic flow by allowing both trains and passengers to meet at a centralized location.
Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal was designed by John Parkinson and Donald Parkinson, a father and son architect team, and its overall finished appearance fit in very well with the region in which it was located. In addition to their work each railroad hired their own architects including H. L. Gilman for the Santa Fe, J.H. Christie for Southern Pacific and R. J. Wirth for Union Pacific. While the building's design carried an overall Spanish Mission theme it also employed elements of the Dutch Colonial Revival and Streamline Moderne styles. For instance, inside the station one could find terra cotta tiles and Travertine marble used to create beautiful floor designs while interior garden patios gave the terminal a unique feel that most simply did not have. Considering the late era in which it was constructed, LAUPT was a beautiful building that evoked earlier masterpieces such as Grand Central Terminal, King Street Station, St. Louis Union Station, and others.
Unfortunately, John Parkinson would not live to see LAUPT completed, passing away during its planning stages on December 9, 1935. When Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal opened in 1939 a fabulous railroad gala was held mirroring the "Pageant of the Iron Horse" which had taken place in Baltimore during 1927. Bill Bradley notes in his book, "The Last Of The Great Stations," that LAUPT attracted a half-million visitors for its grand opening. The first scheduled train to arrive was Southern Pacific's Imperial, a secondary transcontinental service to Chicago. Unfortunately, the terminal had long since missed the "Golden Age," which peaked during the first few decades of the 20th century but did witness throngs of travelers during World War II. At this time the facility witnessed over 7,000 folks and 100 trains daily. The station also saw its three builders’ most prominent passenger trains with names like the Santa Fe's Super Chief and El Capitan, Southern Pacific's Sunset Limited and Daylight, and the Union Pacific's City of Los Angeles.
According to architect Paul Hunter in Tom Zoellner's book "Train" the station provided a grand entrance into Los Angeles and Southern California, "Certainly I know of no other city in which arriving passengers leave the station through an open patio, filled with bright flowers, shady pepper trees, and flanked with tall palms. This scheme undoubtedly originated with publicity men, but they have certainly hit upon the ideal introduction to Southern California." Rail travel slowly died away after the war as folks found automobiles much more convenient and airlines a faster means of traveling from city to city. As the public abandoned trains the famous consists had largely stopped calling to LAUPT by 1970 and were gone altogether by 1971 when Amtrak took over most of the nation's intercity passenger services.
Thankfully for both architecture’s sake and that of our transportation infrastructure LAUPT (renamed Los Angeles
Union Station, LAUS for short, by one-time owner Catellus
Development) found new life beginning in the 1990s. Prior to this the facility had limped
along under Amtrak serving a few of the carrier’s
long-distance trains. In 1992 the station was completely restored and, its future continues to look bright. "The
most visible change is the Gateway Center, a bus terminal and park &
ride facility which provides better connections between buses and
trains. The Gateway, which opened in October 1995, also includes shops,
restaurants and offices, all located on the Union Station property. In
the 21st century, Union Station will also be a major destination in the
proposed high-speed rail system for California." (The previous was courtesy of Los Angeles Rail Transit.)
Today, Los Angeles Union Station is owned by the city after it was purchased in the spring of 2011 following approval of
the Metro Board. In 1980 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the city's true landmarks. Amtrak still calls five of its intercity passenger trains to the terminal (Coast Starlight, Pacific Surfliner, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, and Texas Eagle) while commuter service
Metrolink makes six station stops to the terminal via all of its
different lines. Additionally, the terminal continues to use all of its
original 14 staging tracks although the stub-ended design is
increasingly becoming a considerable liability as service continues to increase. Due to this bottleneck there are plans to convert several
of the staging tracks as run-through corridors, which should greatly help efficiency. To read more about the station's history please click here.
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