Union Station

Union Station (opened 1929)

City bonds were voted to begin construction of this station, designed to unify all of downtown Los Angeles's railway stations into one in 1924. Initial designs had the station next to or actually on top of the “Pueblo” plaza area, but in 1925 finalized designs had it moved a half mile east next to the river to simplify the links between it, the Santa Fe and the Union Pacific (which had had a small station on the site, closed since 1916).

Work began in 1926, with the construction of the Main Terminal building on the south side of East Sunset Blvd followed by the station's distinctive duel train sheds on the north side, with the Great Causeway connecting the two high above Sunset. Beneath the Causeway, were the “drop off” entryways for cars and buses on each side of Sunset.

The northernmost of the duel sheds served the Santa Fe, Southern Pacific and Union Pacific railways, while the southern one served the Pacific Electric interurbans (Northern District lines and the Hollywood/Venice line) and Los Angeles Railway trolleys (specifically the “B” and “N” lines).

The station officially opened on November 17th, 1929, though none of the Pacific Electric lines would use it until the finishing of the “Sunset Cutoff” and the Mission Street Bridge (since removed) in 1931 and 1932, respectively.

The 1930s & 40s were a heyday for the station, with trains from all over the nation discharging their passengers to climb aboard the “Big Red Cars” and “Big Yellow Cars” to be whisked about Los Angeles. And the plans for the “Los Angeles & Pacific” system showed the station as the northeast anchor of a subway system that would eventually funnel all of the P.E.'s three districts through it.

However, as the area moved into the 50s, things began to change. Rail travel to the great station began to drop due to a combination of factors1 and travel on the P.E. and LARwy was dropping even more. The halting of the LA&P project in 1949, which if completed perhaps could have at least partially reversed this trend, put a black mark on the future use of the station for the trolleys. As the 50s progressed, the P.E. gradually cut line after line from its Northern District (along with the other two district, of course), finally in 1961 closing the Los Angeles to El Monte line (itself a truncated remnant of the San Bernadino line) and, perhaps ironically, returning the Hollywood/Venice line to its original 6th & Main station where it would run for just a year more until the MTA's acquisition of the P.E.'s passenger business and their closing of the line.

LARwy cars (now also under MTA operation) would continue to operate through the station until the last day of narrow gauge operation in late 1969, but they were a handful of lonely cars visiting what had been busy platforms thirty years before.

Following the closing of the “B” and “N” lines, the southern shed was mostly abandoned and used for storage (MTA housed its retired PCC cars there). Over the years, several plans for its use – including converting it into a bus terminal (in 1973) and an open aired market (in 1979) were floated, but little was actually done.

The station itself cut back a lot of things during these decades. Over half the terminal building was closed off, including most of the Grand Causeway. Passengers now checked in at what had simply been the north-side Sunset drop-off point and walked along a “temporary” causeway across the end of the southern shed tracks to reach their platforms in the northern shed.2

Then the “Oil Shocks” of the 80s hit and the MTA once again brought out plans for a revived interurban system, centered on the station.3 They began work on reviving several old P.E. lines – the Glendale, Santa Monica Blvd and Long Beach lines first – and tied all these into the single unified destination of Union Station. On June 5th, 1987, the first regularly operating interurban pulled away from the number 6 platform in the south shed and headed towards Glendale.

And over the years since, the station has increasingly been the knot that ties together east and west, north and south in L.A. county. And now plans for a bus terminal annex across Terminal Ave from the station are in the works, further cementing the station as the transportation hub for Los Angeles.

The MTA is even thinking of a subway from the station to Wilshire Blvd...



Union Station Area
(click for larger version)