Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS) retains a history that rivals that of the city whose name it bears. Today, it is a vital intermodal transportation center that serves as a hub for Amtrak intercity passenger rail; Metrolink commuter rail; and Metro rail and Metro bus services. As of 2014, more than 60,000 travelers, commuters and visitors pass through the station every day.
Originally known as the “Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal”, the station was intended to consolidate the services of the Southern Pacific, Union Pacific and Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroads in one modern facility. Construction costs were shared among the railroads. With Los Angeles in the midst of a population boom that began in the 1920s, the new station became a necessity.
Shortly after its completion, World War II presented further opportunity for wide-scale use of the LAUS facilities for troop movement. As America’s defense industries increased accordingly with the needs of the military, so did job opportunities in the Los Angeles area. The station was also utilized as a major hub through which these defense workers arrived in California.
To celebrate the station’s opening, the multi-day program kicked off with a preview and reception for railroad officials, guests of honor and long-time employees on May 2, 1939. The next day, there was a historical parade with the theme of “Railroads Build the Nation,” followed by the formal dedication in the afternoon. Visitors could also tour the station and watch the “Romance of the Rails” show that traced the history of transportation in the state. The station entered regular passenger service on May 7th.
The grand building that exists today was designed in part by John and Donald Parkinson, the famous father and son duo who founded The Parkinson Firm of Los Angeles. Their combination of Spanish Colonial, Mission Revival and Art Deco designs was used to accentuate the city’s personal history and heritage alongside its newly found modernity. The station itself is a reflection of the grandeur that is Los Angeles.
In the waiting room, travelers stroll to their trains along terracotta tiled floors accented with inlaid marble strips. Walls are clad with both travertine and early models of acoustical tile. Adjacent to the indoor waiting areas are beautiful enclosed garden patios and courtyards. These lush outdoor spaces were planned by landscape architect Tommy Tomson, who chose a selection of colorful and fragrant plants including orange trees, fan palms and espalier magnolias.
Hunger could be satisfied with a visit to the famous Harvey House restaurant, whose interior was designed by architect Mary Colter. Her work skillfully blended Spanish and American Indian design aesthetics with modern influences, to which she added touches of humor and whimsy. This is evident in the restaurant’s floor, laid out in a zigzag pattern meant to resemble a Navajo blanket.
With the advent of the interstate highway system and jet craft in the decades following World War II, rail patronage declined in the 1950s and 1960s. However, growing Amtrak and transit usage has led LAUS to be revitalized, allowing the station to once again serve as a major transportation hub for people from all over America. This newfound viability was due in part to the efforts of the Catellus Development Corporation. Originally developed in 1984 as the Santa Fe Pacific Realty Corporation and designed with the intent of handling all non-railroad real estate interests for the Santa Fe Industries and Southern Pacific Company, the company was renamed Catellus in 1990, the same year that it purchased LAUS. Catellus subsequently embarked on a major renovation of the station and developed two new office towers and an apartment complex on the 51-acre site.
In April 2011, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) bought LAUS for $75 million. The purchase, which included 38 acres and 5.9 million square feet of development rights, allows LACMTA to build on the property to meet the station’s current and future transportation needs.
LACMTA oversaw the creation of a master plan to guide the station’s development. The plan, now being implemented, has four primary goals: celebrate the station’s history and design; improve the passenger experience; create a great destination that attracts not only transit users but also residents and visitors; and prepare for potential high-speed rail service. A separate study examined how to better link the station site to surrounding areas through pedestrian and bicycle improvements.
The magnificent history of this station is fitting, seeing as it sits adjacent to the site of the original Los Angeles settlement, where the famous Olvera Street is located today. The city was founded in1781 by Felipe de Neve, a Spanish governor. The small pueblo, whose original title was “The Town of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels of Porciúncula,” consisted of 44 settlers of mixed cultural backgrounds. Control of Los Angeles would shift hands quite often. It remained under Spanish rule until 1821, when it became a part of Mexico following the Mexican secession from Spain. The Mexican hold over the California region was brief, as it came under the control of the United States in 1848 at the end of the Mexican-American War.
The Los Angeles region become a population mecca in the 1920s, a cultural and media capital and current home to the nation’s most notable entertainment companies. It is also home to many of America’s most notable landmarks, such as the Hollywood sign and Walk of Fame, the Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Bowl.
Amtrak provides ticketing and baggage services at this station, which is served by approximately three dozen daily trains, as well as the tri-weekly Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle (Westbound: Wednesday, Friday, Monday; Eastbound: Sunday, Wednesday, Friday). The Pacific Surfliner service is primarily financed through funds made available by the State of California, Department of Transportation, and is managed by the LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority.
Los Angeles Union Station also has an Amtrak Metropolitan LoungeSM available to Sleeping car passengers,business class passengers with same-day tickets and Amtrak Guest Rewards members (Select Plus and Select Executive levels).