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Union Station Celebrates 70 Years

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, May 04, 2009, at 10:24AM
Union Station 70th Press Conference Eric Richardson [Flickr]

Metro CEO Art Leahy talks about his first job at Metro, driving a bus line that terminated at a then-empty Union Station.

Los Angeles' Union Station opened seventy years ago, but speakers at a morning press conference honoring the occasion said that the station is today more vibrant than ever.

"What a fantastic job everyone has done to get Union Station to where it is today," said Councilman Jose Huizar. "We are not only walking down history when we walk in there, but we are planning for the future."

"This is one of the great buildings in the United States," said Councilman Tom LaBonge, who organized the morning event.

The station officially opened with a three-day event held May 3 - 5, 1939. The festivities attracted 1.5 million people, and included a parade that featured steam locomotives running up Main street.

It was the culmination of a long process. The Chamber of Commerce had appointed a committee to study a joint station in 1905, hoping to replace the three separate stations run by the Southern Pacific, Union Pacific and Santa Fe railroads. The three fought the idea for nearly thirty years, with cases going all the way to the Supreme Court.

In 1933 the railroads finally relented, and a ceremonial first stake was driven into the ground in September of that year.

Ironically, the project was almost derailed by the Postal Service. Plans to locate the "working postoffice" on land intended for passenger parking generated a public outcry, but the Postal Service continued in its efforts to acquire the space. That created a two year period in which work was virtually stalled, with a compromise finally being reached in 1936.

When it opened, the $11,000,000 station served sixty trains and roughly 7,000 passengers daily. That number pales in comparison to passenger counts today, with the station serving as a hub for Metro rail service, Metrolink commuter trains, Amtrak and numerous bus lines.

Huizar praised station owner Catellus Development for its stewardship of the station. "They are not only returning it to its previous glory, but offering modern solutions to transportation needs of today," said Huizar.

The station looks to get even more crowded next month, when Metro's new Eastside Gold Line enters service. Farther in the future, the station is planned as the L.A. terminal for proposed high-speed rail service to the Bay Area.

Those who love the rails may wish to make their way to the station this Saturday, May 9, for National Train Day. Festivities feature performances by Chana and Matt Costa, and displays of historic rail equipment.

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