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Union Station Walking Tour By Los Angeles Conservancy

The Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal
Los Angeles Conservancy Walking Tour  8/18/12

Photos by Matthew Morrison using an iPhone 4s, and Carl Morrison using a Canon EOS Rebel T3i
Some Canon T3i photos are 'Enhanced HDR' above and others are single shots.

Los Angeles Conservancy's Walking Tour Description


The Union Station tour covers architecture, art, culture, and social history as it celebrates one of the great landmarks of Los Angeles, the 1939 Union Station.

The grand opening of Union Station was celebrated with a three-day extravaganza attended by nearly half a million people.  The station’s monumental architecture, a unique combination of Spanish Colonial Revival and Art Deco styles, assured that it would be one of the most identifiable landmarks in the city.  It also turned out to be the last great railway station built in America, constructed as it was near the end of the heyday of rail travel.  The vast and extraordinary spaces now serve as station to the city’s Metro Rail lines, and once again tens of thousands of people course through the building every day.

In the mid-1990s, an intermodal transit center and 28-story office tower was added on the east side of Union Station.  These additions draw on the 1939 station for inspiration, interpreting the vast spaces and southwestern colors in a new way, and incorporating the work of many different artists as part of the public spaces. 

Union Station Exterior   Photo by Annie Laskey


Schedule:  Third Saturday of every month
Start time:  10:00 am
Length:  2-1/2 hours
Distance covered:   About 1-1/2 miles total walking
Walking difficulty:  Easy
Wheelchair accessible:  Yes (please contact Conservancy office following ticket purchase to make arrangements)
Meeting Location:  Union Station, 800 N. Alameda Street.  Tour meets in the Alameda Street entrance lobby, near the information counter.
Parking:  Various surface lots in the area ($5-$15).  $6 parking is available in the MTA garage, located to the rear of the historic station. Entrance to the garage is from Cesar Chavez Avenue or Vignes Street.
Metro:  Gold Line or Red Line to Union Station.

Ticket concourse
Main waiting room
North and south patios
Fred Harvey Restaurant *
Train platforms
East portal transit center
MTA building

* subject to availability

Angelino Heights
Art Deco
Biltmore Hotel
Downtown Renaissance
Modern Skyline
Historic Downtown
Union Station

Saturday, August 19, 2012, Son Matthew and I boarded Amtrak 9:11 a.m. for Los Angeles.  E-Ticketing had just begun and was the first time to use an e-ticket I'd purchased and printed at home.  My son entered the ticket number into his iPhone and used it for the return trip, so we know both methods work as well as hard tickets like before.   Thirty-four minutes later we arrived and walked to the Information booth in front of the station where two groups were forming for the  10:00 a.m. Walking Tour of Union Station.  Jay Cywan took three small groups on the tour and was a knowledgeable guide.

I had been in Union Station many, many times and felt that I had explored all the public areas, but was hopeful I'd see some behind-the-scenes areas.

Amtrak 90208 'Cabbage Car' (Cab/ engine, but remote controlled from pushing locomotive) took us to LAUPT for the Walking Tour.

The cars on this train are single-level as opposed to the more common bi-level Surfliners.

Yours truly with my e-ticket printed at home, a recently-added feature on Amtrak.

LAUPT's new tracks and canopy.

New platform and canopy is the same color scheme as the old canopies.  Old covers will be repainted.

The new platform and canopy, right, was being painted.  New tracks 13 and 14 have concrete ties.  Here, 12 still has wooden ties.

Jay Cywan, our guide for the 2.5 hr. tour, above, met us by the Information Booth in the Vestibule

The Vestibule

The imposing entrance lobby opens through monumental arches to the ticket concourse, the waiting room, and the south arcade leading to the former Fred Harvey Restaurant.  The room's large expanses of undecorated surfaces and clean geometric lines are hallmarks of the Moderne (Art Deco) style and reinforce the monumental quality of the space.  Spanish Colonial Revival details, such as arches, Moorish stars, and multicolored tile accents, link the station thematically to the romance of the Los Angeles' Spanish and Mexican heritage.

The map above is in a brochure Jay gave each of us. 

Clock Tower from the south.  The clock is directly above the Main Entrance and Vestibule.

The Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT), as it was officially known, was designed by the father son team of Parkinson and Parkinson.  They also designed the LA Memorial Coliseum (1923)  and Bullocks Wilshire (1929).  Southern Pacific Railroad, which arrived in 1876, Santa Fe, which arrived in 1885, and Union Pacific, which arrived in 1905, also had stations here previously and helped the Parkinson's in the design of the "Union" station that would serve all three railroads.

The station blends two architectural styles popular at the time of its construction, 1939:  Spanish Colonial Revival and Art Deco.  Spanish Colonial Revival architecture romanticized California's Spanish past with decorative elements such as arches, bell towers, gardens, and church-like interiors.  The Art Deco movement originated in the 1920s and featured soaring vertical forms, geometric shapes, and brilliant color.  Santa Barbara epitomizes the Spanish Colonial Revival style.

Main Entrance and Clock Tower from entry drive from Alameda Street.

Art Deco Column with "Union Station" lettering may not be original.

We first looked into the Ticket Concourse.  It was being used for the filming of the TV program:  The Program.

The Ticket Concourse is the largest room in Union Station.  Enormous arched windows decorated with Spanish grillwork soar nearly three stories high.  The painted-beamed ceiling exemplifies Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.  The Spanish tile floor has patterned marble insets placed like a carpet runner along the front of the original ticket counter, which spans 115 feet.  In the heyday of the station, a women's lounge with dressing rooms, a men's restroom with showers, a smoking room, and a four-chair barbershop were located through doors at the north end of the concourse.

Original Ticket Windows

Ceiling of the Ticket Concourse.  The chandeliers here and in the Waiting Room each weight 1.5 tons (3,000 lbs.).

Opposite the Ticket Concourse is the Arcade that leads to the Harvey House.

Fred Harvey Restaurant

The station's original dining room was part of the famous chain of Fred Harvey eateries that served railroad depots.  Designed by architect Mary Colter, who designed many buildings for the Fred Harvey Company, the space retains its own unique character while integrating seamlessly with the rest of Union Station.

Our group listening to Jay talk about the Harvey House (which was also closed for filming). 

(I will add links to my interior shots of the Harvey House taken on previous Train Days.)

Exterior Hallway, formerly used by passengers who had arrived by train, on the west side of the Harvey House. Above and Below.


From the Vestibule, we walked down the original inlaid tile, which looks like a carpet, to the Waiting Room.

The Waiting Room

The high vaulted ceiling reinforces the spaciousness of this large room, complemented by ceiling-height windows that flood the area with natural light.  The wall decorations, like that of the ticket concourse, features a wainscot of multi-colored Spanish tile below panels of sienna-colored travertine.  The upper walls are faced with acoustical tile (with corncob contents), a novelty in the 1930s.  The rows of wooden and upholstered armchair-like seats are original to the room.

At the top of each set of windows are blinds that can be lowered.  How is this accomplished, with a crank inserted through one of these brass features below each window:


The TRAXX Restaurant, within the Waiting Room, serves lunch and dinner.

Waiting Room.

Travertine, Spanish Tile, Rosewood interior walls.

Moorish elements were included as well as in this white arch over the door to TRAXX.

The eight-pointed star is also a Moorish feature.

Beyond the Waiting Room is the Arrival and Departure Lobby.  "Gates E and F" were left from the many original gates.

With the added Subway and Light Rail in addition to Metrolink and Amtrak, this station is as busy as it was in its heyday.

The Baggage Area, resembling an airport baggage area, was upgraded in the 1960s.

Behind Gates E and F is this Welcome sign for arriving train passengers.

Concessions were added in 2010-11.

Tunnel and Trackside

A concrete passenger tunnel, 28 feet wide and 9.5 feet high, extends for 500 feet beneath the station's tracks.  eight pairs of ramps lead to loading platforms for 16 public tracks.  Two of these tracks now serve the Metro Gold Line.  The platforms still have the original Streamline Moderne (Art Deco) butterfly canopies and remain almost unchanged since the station opened in 1939.

Gateway Transit Center/East Portal

Referred to as the East Portal, this modern addition to the historic station in 1995 serves as a gateway to train, subway, and bus platforms.  The facade of the East Portal is a grand archway that echoes those in the 1939 station.  Inside, a 90-foot high steel and glass dome soars over the lobby.  Thematic artwork called City of Dreams, River of History, is one of may located throughout the East Portal.

Arroyo Seco artful inclined walk up to bus platforms.

LA Union Station and platforms circa 1939

Metro Gateway Headquarters Building from the Arroyo Seco walk

Metro Gateway Headquarters Building

This 28-story tower is a contemporary interpretation of the Moderne-Spanish Colonial Revival aesthetic of the original station.  The tower's gently curving facade and vertical piers evoke the Moderne style, while the two story entry arcade recalls Spanish Colonial Revival.  The lobby features two-story arched entryways and elaborate marble patterns on the floor.  Among several original artworks in an around the building are four murals by James Doolin from 1995, representing Los Angeles over the years, circa 1870, 1910, and 1950.  The fourth mural, titled Los Angeles After 2000, was painted based on then-current plans for development.


Los Angeles 1870

Los Angeles 1910

Los Angeles 2000

Views from the South Porch of Metro Gateway Headquarters

Union Station's new platform canopy and downtown LA

Looking West

Gray 'waterslide' on right is a new high school, central tan bell tower of the new Catholic cathedral.

Union Station East Portal

South Patio (If I did not know better, I would have thought this was a photo from Tucson, Arizona.)

North and South Patios

In keeping with the image of Southern California as a sunshine paradise, lush garden patios blank each side of the waiting room.  The south patio is laid out as a formal garden, with flower beds set geometrically around small trees.  Paved Spanish brick, the center of the patio features a 16-point star motif.

Our tour ended at exactly 12:30 and we thanked Jay for an excellent, informative tour.

Matthew and I still needed to have lunch, so we walked north, up Alameda St. to a rail fan's haven, Philippe's where we had an original French Dip sandwich.

Having been at Philippe's on National Train Days, when the line is out the door, we were glad that this 'regular Saturday' crowd was light and we enjoyed our lunch.

Chinatown is a few blocks west of Alameda St, and the next Amtrak to Fullerton was 2 hours away, so we strolled through Chinatown and practiced our Street Photography.

Members of three or 4 generations go shopping together.

The Olvera Street churches, restaurants, and shops are less than a block from the Station.

With time for a Starbucks Frap. and a seat in their air conditioning, we were ready to board our Surfliner for Fullerton.

What an excellent day-trip to Los Angeles and its Union Station Walking Tour!



Los Angeles Conservancy -- Preserving Los Angeles' Cultural Heritage

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Photos of Inside the Harvey House (about midway through this report)  Click any photo for a double-sized photo.

More Harvey House Photos within this report:

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