Union Station 75th Anniversary

Historic Union Station is the most accessible destination in Los Angeles and one of the county's busiest and most beautiful transit hubs. Built in 1939, the station houses multiple transportation providers offering local, regional and long distance service. Travelers passing through Union Station will enjoy its authentic Spanish Colonial Revival and Mission Moderne architecture and contemporary amenities. For passengers with longer layovers, historic sites and sightseeing opportunities await within and immediately outside its doors. Visit metro.net/library for more info.

1861-12-12 00:00:00

1861: John D. Parkinson born

John B. Parkinson, architect for Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, is born in Scorton, Lancashire, England. He later moves to Winnipeg and Minneapolis, back to England, then on to Napa, California and Seattle before moving to Los Angeles in 1894 to open his architecture office on Spring Street between 2nd and 3rd Streets.

1904-01-01 00:00:00

1904: The Braly Block

Parkinson designs the Braly Block (later known as the “Continental Building”), Los Angeles’ first skyscraper. It remains the tallest building in the city until City Hall is completed in 1928. Parkinson will go on to design many of Los Angeles’ finest buildings, including several at University of Southern California, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Bullocks Wilshire, an important early renovation of Pershing Square, and Union Station.

1916-01-01 00:00:00

1916: The early push for a union station

The Railroad Commission of California acts to protect the movement of Pacific Electric streetcars across tracks of the Santa Fe and Union Pacific Railroads at the Los Angeles River. This causes other parties to file complaints regarding grade separation of rail lines and a push for a “Union Passenger Station.” The basic reason for a Union Passenger Station in any city is to save passengers from transferring between one depot and another when passing through. The major railroads argue that only 2% of passengers leaving or arriving Los Angeles need to transfer from one depot to another, thus a Southern Pacific – Pacific Electric joint station is far more important to Los Angeles than a Union Station for all three steam railroads. Here, a Los Angeles Railway “P” at 1st and Alameda Streets, circa 1918.

1925-12-22 00:00:00

1925: The railroads' alternative

Los Angeles’ three major railroads do not want to open themselves to competition, should a union station be constructed. The Union Pacific System, Southern Pacific Company, & Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway offer an alternative plan. It proposes elevated tracks for local streetcars interfacing with railroad stations for easier transfers between the two.

1926-04-30 00:00:00

1926: Los Angeles votes

Ballot measure gives Los Angeles residents the choice between a network of elevated railways and construction of Union Station to consolidate the city's three different railroad terminals. On April 30, 1926, voters approved the union station concept 61.1% to 38.7%. Its location, which was a separate ballot measure, was approved for the Plaza much more narrowly: 51.1% to 48.9%.

1930-01-01 00:00:00

1930: Rise of the personal automobile

Car ownership in Los Angeles explodes during the 1920s, as the number of automobiles registered in Los Angeles County reaches more than 800,000 by 1930. This is five times the number in 1920. With much of Los Angeles’ streetcar network “at grade” on street level, the public transit system is slows down given the increased traffic, as one can see in this photo looking north on Broadway from 3rd Street in December, 1930.

1930-07-06 00:00:00

1930: A new airport

Crowds gather at the dedication of “Mines Field,” Los Angeles’ municipal airport on June 7th, 1930. After the Westchester-area site was selected in 1928, construction of the new airport began preparing Los Angeles for the future of wide-scale passenger air travel…and the reduction in long-distance train travel in the coming years. Mines Field was named for William W. Mines, the real estate agent who arranged the deal. The first structure, Hangar No. 1, was erected in 1929 and is in the National Register of Historic Places, along with Union Station.

1931-01-01 00:00:00

1931: Supreme Court decision

The three major railroads lose their appeals to the California State Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court. The California Railroad Commission compelled them to come up with a plan to construct a union station. By 1932, the nation was in the grips of the Great Depression, and the railroads again asked for a moratorium on the project due to the continued drop in rail passenger numbers. Here, a man stands on the sidewalk in Old Chinatown on Alameda Street in 1937.

1932-07-30 00:00:00

1932: Olympics come to Los Angeles

Los Angeles hosts the Summer Olympic Games, with thousands of athletes and visitors arriving in the city’s various train stations from all over the world. The Los Angeles Coliseum was designed by Union Station architect John D. Parkinson in 1923, and retrofitted in 1930 for the Olympics. Held during the worldwide Great Depression, many nations and athletes were unable to pay for the trip to Los Angeles. Here, the Italian delegation departs the Southern Pacific Terminal for the Olympic Village.

1934-01-01 00:00:00

1934-1939: Old Chinatown

The Union Station site was the location of “Old Chinatown.” But now, as the area was being prepared for construction, Old Chinatown’s residents scrambled to find a new neighborhood in which to live and work. “New Chinatown,” neither distinctly Chinese nor American, but in a new style called “Chinese American,” formally opens on June 25th, 1938. Governor Frank F. Merriam was joined by Los Angeles Mayor F.L. Shaw in celebrating the role of the Chinese pioneers in building California and The West. The scaffolding in the background is Union Station construction.

1934-04-19 00:00:00

1934: Construction begins

Groundbreaking exercises begin at Spring Street and Sunset Boulevard at nearby Fort Moore Hill as part of the new $8 million construction for the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal. The photo shows the ceremony in progress with an arrow pointing to the speakers’ stand, along with the steam shovel which turned the first shovel-full of earth. Dirt amounting to 50,000 cubic yards will be moved to fill in at the new depot site.

1935-01-01 00:00:00

1935: The Union Station site

Once the land was flattened and graded, the site was prepared for construction. Here, a birds-eye view of the Union Station site looking west, as seen on August 27, 1935.

1935-09-12 00:00:00

1935: Parkinson dies

John Parkinson dies at age 73. The Los Angeles Times praises him by stating “Future generations have only to walk through the streets of Los Angeles to be reminded how much John Parkinson in his lifetime contributed to the city that grew up under his hand.” Despite designing more than 200 buildings in the area, author Stephen Gee notes, “There is no statue or street named in recognition of his contribution…Parkinson shaped Los Angeles’ architectural identity and brought to life the bold ambition of his clients at a time when there were no limits placed on the city’s expectations.” His son Donald dies in 1945 and his grandson (also Donald) dies in 1954, leaving a short-lived but brilliant architectural legacy for the City of Angels. The city’s population soars from 50,000 to over 1 million in the 40 years Parkinson lived and worked in Los Angeles.

1938-01-01 00:00:00

1938: Pacific Electric & Los Angeles Railway

The nearly completed Union Station can be seen looking north toward Lincoln Heights. Alameda street is on the left. At the bottom is Aliso Street, where Pacific Electric streetcars (“Red Cars”) interfaced with Union Station (a streetcar can be seen at the west end of the street). Los Angeles Railway (“Yellow Cars”) connected with Union Station via a streetcar loop on the north side of the terminal building, to the left of the tracks seen here.

1939-03-05 00:00:00

1939: Union Station opens!

Elaborate opening ceremonies for Union Station last three days. The parade begins at 11:40 a.m. on May 3rd.

1939-05-03 00:00:00

1939: Union Station Opening Celebration

Trains, vintage automobiles, and half a million spectators take part in opening day festivities and parade on May 3, 1939. This long-forgotten home movie was discovered in early 2014 by Metro Transportation Library researchers looking into Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences archives. It was shot by legendary Disney animator Ward Kimball, a transportation enthusiast and creator of numerous classic Disney characters. In honor of Union Station's 75th Anniversary, Metro and the Academy, in cooperation with Kimball's family, have restored this only known footage of the historic opening.

1940-12-30 00:00:00

1940: Los Angeles' first freeway

The Arroyo Seco Parkway opens, the first component of a planned freeway network for Los Angeles. As more freeways were constructed, they crossed streetcar and freight rail lines into downtown Los Angeles. As the Los Angeles area grew, so did the traffic. The Parkway was originally designed for 27,000 automobiles a day. Today, it carries more than 122,000 cars each day. Here, the Arroyo Seco Parkway at the Avenue 60 bridge in its earliest years.

1941-01-01 01:00:00

1941-1945: World War II

During World War II, Union Station serves as a principal terminal for moving American military troops to and from the Pacific Theater during World War II. Through the later war years, as many as 100 trains, including troop trains, arrived and departed from Union Station every 24 hours, a two-thirds increase over the normal 60 trains a day. Wartime fatalities also were returned stateside via Union Station; as many as 20 bodies per day reportedly came through the baggage department. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, many wartime refugees entered Los Angeles through Union Station.

1945-03-29 00:00:00

1945: President Roosevelt dies

President Franklin D. Roosevelt dies in office just two months into an unprecedented fourth term. Harry S. Truman becomes the 33rd President of the United States. Less than one month later, World War II ends.

1946-01-01 00:00:00

1946: "The Harvey Girls"

The MGM musical film “The Harvey Girls” starring Judy Garland opens. Although it does not take place in Los Angeles, the movie further popularizes the chain of Harvey House restaurants at train stations throughout the country, including the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal. The film wins an Academy Award for Best Song for “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe,” written by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer. Numerous artists record versions of the song, including Johnny Mercer and The Pied Pipers, whose rendition spends 7 straight weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts.

1950-01-01 00:00:00

1950: "Union Station": The Movie

The crime drama film Union Station opens, starring William Holden. As with The Harvey Girls, the film is shot in Los Angeles Union Station, but does not take place there (the novel it was adapted from is set in New York’s Grand Central Station).

1951-01-01 00:00:00

1950-1953: Korean War

During the Korean War, U.S. troops again passed through Union Station on their way to the Pacific. Here, 311th Logistical Command officers appear on August 19th, 1951.

1956-01-01 00:00:00

1956: Flying goes mainstream

With the “Jet Age” in full swing, plans are made for Los Angeles International Airport to be upgraded. Traveling across the United States by air is much faster, impacting train travel and Union Station passenger traffic. Today, Los Angeles International Airport is the 6th busiest in the world. Here, officials inspect new plans for LAX.

1961-01-01 00:00:00

1961-1962: A new Los Angeles International Airport

Los Angeles International Airport’s distinctive white Theme Building is part of a $50 million over-all Los Angeles Jet Age Terminal Construction project, beginning in April 1960 and completed in August 1961 at a cost of $2.2 million dollars. Architects Pereira & Luckman Associates, Welton Becket & Associates, and Paul R. Williams design the building's 135-foot-high parabolic arches to symbolize the optimism of a futuristic Los Angeles in the space age. A restaurant that provides a sweeping view of the airport is suspended beneath two intersecting arches that form the legs. Approximately 900 tons of structural steel is required for the entire building. In 1992, the Los Angeles City Council designates the Theme Building a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. Here, an aerial photo from 1962.

1961-01-05 00:00:00

1961: The "Backbone Route"

A 75-mile long, 25-stop rapid transit plan is proposed for Los Angeles. The first stage of the plan, dubbed the “Backbone Route,” is 22.7 miles long and consists of a subway between downtown Los Angeles and the forthcoming Century City to the west, including a stop at Union Station. It is proposed that it could be built in 3 ½ years at a cost of $192 million. After President Kennedy proposed spending $250 million in nuclear fallout shelters, local officials attempted to finance some of the project at less than the commercial interest rate by offering the Federal Government the underground portions for fallout shelters that could be “easily and inexpensively” adapted for civil defense purposes.

1968-01-01 00:00:00

1968: Union Station's "Metroport"

The Southern California Rapid Transit District issues its Final Report outlining the future of rapid transit in Los Angeles. The City hopes to receive federal funding for a demonstration project to test “sky buses” between downtown and Los Angeles International Airport. The idea was to secure passenger trailers to giant jet-powered heavy-lift helicopters and whisk passengers directly to LAX from a “Metroport Station” across from Union Station where the Terminal Annex building now stands.

1971-01-05 00:00:00

1971: Train to San Diego

On May 1, 1971, several trains are added to the system between Los Angeles and San Diego to the south, north to Santa Barbara in 1988, and eventually on to San Luis Obispo.

1972-02-08 00:00:00

1972: Recognition of a local landmark

The Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal and Grounds is designated as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument on August 2, 1972. It was the 101st such designation in the City, exactly ten years after the first one in 1962. Today, the total numbers more than 1,000.

1973-01-01 00:00:00

1973: Mayor Tom Bradley

Thomas J. “Tom” Bradley is elected the 38th Mayor of the City of Los Angeles, serving a record 20 years in office until 1993. He appears here with Nick Patsaouras, addressing those gathered at the groundbreaking ceremonies for the first segment of the Metro Red Line on September 29, 1986. Mayor Bradley demonstrated unwavering support for public transportation throughout his five terms in office.

1976-01-01 00:00:00

1976: West Coast Corridor Study

The Federal Railroad Administration releases the West Coast Corridor Study in response to the Amtrak Improvement Act of 1974. This study leads to cementing the Los Angeles – San Diego route as a regular scheduled service and Amtrack’s second busiest corridor. Here, Amtrak at Union Station, 1988.

1980-12-13 00:00:00

1980: National landmark status

Union Station is placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Statement of Significance from the National Register nomination reads: “The Los Angeles Union Station is a very handsome landmark that is a milestone in architectural history and in the history of transportation in America. Although less than 50 years of age, the property is of exceptional importance. Built when railroad passenger service was on the decline, it was the last of the great passenger terminals to be built in a monumental scale in a major American city. Because of this, plus its impressive appearance, it has been called "The Grand Finale of the Golden Age of Railroads in America." It combined three major railroad systems into one terminal in the heart of the city, using a stub-end track arrangement. Architecturally, the building is one of the finest expressions of the 1930s styling in this country. It skillfully combines Streamline Moderne with Spanish Colonial Revival to create an expression which is twofold: the sleek, streamlined transportation imagery of the Moderne, highly appropriate to a center of railroad transportation, and the historical imagery of Spanish revival architecture, a major element of the Southern California cultural landscape. Integrity is almost totally intact, with original decoration, ornamentation, fixtures and furnishings still in place. Architecturally, it remains one of the great examples of its type and period in this country.” Here, the Station is seen in 1940.

1983-01-01 00:00:00

1983: Metro Rail is coming

In preparation for Metro Rail construction, the Southern California Rapid Transit District presents station renderings to the public, including concepts for Union Station’s future Red Line station.

1992-10-26 00:00:00

1992: Metrolink begins service

Metrolink commuter rail begins Monday through Friday service from Moorpark, Santa Clarita and Pomona to Los Angeles Union Station. From there, passengers make connections to a combination of user-friendly services. These include free Metrolink Shuttle buses operated by Los Angeles Department of transportation to Bunker Hill, Civic Center, the Financial District and South Park. Customers arriving at Union Station also take Southern California Rapid Transit District buses, DASH shuttles and Amtrak Intercity Service trains to their destinations. Metrolink is hailed as a cost-saving commute option that eliminates the stress and unreliability of freeway driving time.

1993-01-01 00:00:00

1993: Metrolink expands service

Metrolink service extends to the cities of San Bernardino and Riverside, adding San Bernadino and Riverside Counties to Los Angeles and Ventura Counties regional rail network. In 1994, after four years as the Amtrak-operated “Orange County Commuter,” Orange County Metrolink service begins.

1993-01-30 00:00:00

1993: Metro Red Line opens

Metro Red Line “Segment 1” opens between Union Station and 7th/Metro Station in downtown Los Angeles. On Saturday, January 30th, eager Southern California Rapid Transit District volunteers welcome an estimated 53,000 riders are welcomed aboard the new rail cars. The following day, another 91,000 take to the subway. California Governor Pete Wilson proclaims, “In 30 years, this will be the most magnificent transportation system in the world!” Just a few days after the Metro Red Line begins service at Union Station, the 13 members of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“Metro”) Board of Directors are sworn in and meet for the first time. Here, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley enjoys the festivities and encourages everyone to get on board!

1995-10-22 00:00:00

1995: Patsaouras Bus Plaza opens

Buses officially begin servicing the Gateway Multimodal Transportation Center’s Patsaouras Bus Plaza at Union Station on October 22, 1995. The official grand opening celebration is held on October 24. LACMTA Chair Larry Zarian addresses the media and several hundred dignitaries and guests. The federally-funded Gateway Tower allows Metro to begin saving millions of dollars in future rent payments on previously leased locations.

1997-12-05 00:00:00

1997: Amtrak Desert Wind

Amtrak’s Desert Wind trains, in service between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City since 1979, are discontinued on May 12, 1997. The loss of rail service limits options for Angelenos travelling to Las Vegas to either driving the congested I-15 highway or flying.

2003-01-01 00:00:00

2003: Union Station improvements

Wayfinding and face-lift improvements for Union Station bring new signage, enhanced lighting, upgraded restrooms, and a new public address system. Here, the Patsaouras Transit Plaza in 2003.

2003-07-26 00:00:00

2003: Metro Gold Line opens

Metro Gold Line Service begins between Union Station and Pasadena Sierra Madre Station on July 26th, 2003. The 13.7-mile light rail line operates between downtown Los Angeles and East Pasadena with stops in the communities of Chinatown, Lincoln Heights, Mount Washington, Highland Park, South Pasadena and Pasadena.

2006-03-15 00:00:00

2006: Union Station's LAX FlyAway service begins

LAX FlyAway service begins at Union Station. In its first year, the buses transport 250,000 passengers to Los Angeles International Airport, more than three times the number predicted before opening.

2009-11-11 00:00:00

2009: Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension opens

Grand opening ceremonies are held for the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension between Union Station and East Los Angeles. The new light rail line marks the return of rail service to Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles for the first time since 1963. The weekend opening carries 75,000 passengers to eight new rail stations.

2010-01-01 00:00:00

2010: Planning future improvements

Proposed improvements between the El Monte Busway and Patsaouras Transit Plaza at the East Portal of Union Station and LACMTA’s Gateway headquarters building.

2010-04-13 00:00:00

2010: Dodger Stadium Express service begins

Dodger Stadium Express shuttle service begins at the Station’s Pasaouras Transit Plaza. Approximately 1,400 baseball fans take the shuttles for opening day.

2011-04-14 00:00:00

2011: Metro purchases Union Station

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority purchases Union Station from Prologis and Catellus Development. By 2011, Los Angeles is Amtrak’s 5th busiest station, with ridership over 1.6 million per year.

2012-06-28 00:00:00

2012: Union Station Master Plan

Metro approves Gruen/Grimshaw to develop a Union Station Master Plan for the 40-acre property.

Union Station 75th Anniversary

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