Saturday, May 3, 2014

75 Years Of Union Station

Today was the 75th birthday of Los Angeles Union Station, and Metro, the station's current owner, threw a massive celebration there in the form of an early National Train Day event.

Like previous NTD events, there were entertainment stages, the classic Fred Harvey Restaurant space was opened up, a model train layout was on display, and people got to climb inside real ones.  This time around, we were given a glimpse of the station's future, in the form of wayfinding signs, interactive touchscreen displays, a photographic exhibit, and overall cleaning up and renovation of the station's original fixtures.

Known as "The Last Of The Great Train Stations" built in the United States, Union Station was not only the culmination of points west, but the great national rail travel era, which would soon give way to the airplane in the decades to come. The station was originally built in 1939 as a shared facility for the three major western railroads that served it: The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, the Southern Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad, as before then, each railroad had their own station in the vicinity (all surrounding the Los Angeles River, incidentally).

Today, the station is no longer shared by three private railroads, but by three public transportation agencies: Metro, Metrolink and Amtrak, and after the "dark ages" of the 1970s and 1980s, the station experienced a revival in the early '90s when Metrolink and the Metro Red Line began serving the station.

Here's some pics from Saturday's 75th anniversary celebration:

Chuggington, the cheap substitute for Thomas. But iz cool.
This swing band played in the Harvey House restaurant space and brought it, 1939 style!
People dressed up in '30s-'40s cosplay. And they looked sharp. 
Can we please bring this look back?
If hipsters wore this instead, they would be hated less.
A big oversized iPad installed in the terminal now gives information about Union Station. 
People waited in long lines to walk through the classic old-school passenger cars!
And here's an old-school MTA bus! Wonder if it accepts TAP cards...
A Look Back At The 50th Anniversary

But this wasn't the first anniversary party for the classic Mission Revival/Streamline Moderne railroad terminal. Twenty-five years ago, the station, then owned by a company called Catellus, threw a golden anniversary bash on the weekend of May 6-7, 1989 to celebrate 50 years of service.

And The Militant was there!

Well, technically, it was the Mili-Teen, the younger version of The Militant, who hadn't quite earned his camo yet, but his interest, curiosity and pride for his hometown were nonetheless burgeoning even back then.

It was a similar event as today, but unlike today, the tracks weren't as active as are now. Back in the '80s, you'd have a handful of Amtrak trains roll in and out, and that was it for the day. On the positive side, and maybe because of the lack of activity on the platform tracks, it enabled the three railroads associated with Union Station's history to put some classic and modern trains on display.

The Santa Fe, the Southern Pacific and the Union Pacific all brought in some old-school steam streamliner diesel engines for public display, and some of them were set up where people can even walk inside! The steam locomotives were especially impressive, their whistles blew as loud as ships, probably echoing all over Downtown Los Angeles at the time.

One train display, though, changed The Mili-Teen's life. He had already known about the Metro Rail subway already being dug below the station, which has been under construction since 1986. But he knew its opening would be, like, eons away, sometime in the next decade.

But at the front of Union Station, he saw a 15-foot-long mockup of what looked like a rail vehicle. It was white with black trim, and blue stripes. It said "Los Angeles" on the front, but it looked nothing like the Metro Rail subway cars he'd seen in renderings.

He approached the information table and was pleasantly surprised to discover this was another rail line being built in town, that it would go to Long Beach, and best of all, it would open within next year!

It blew The Mili-Teen's mind.

The pamphlet called it "The Los Angeles-Long Beach Rail Transit Project." He saw the future. The world hadn't yet experienced the power of the phenomenon known as "Hammer Time," (though the MC wasn't totally unknown at the time). He knew people would be riding this thing before the subway opened. He then set himself on a quest to learn more about it...and the rest is history.

For The Mili-Teen, the 50th anniversary celebration of Union Station was a life-changing moment. He was able to experience both the past and the future on that day.

The Militant is proud to share some pictures from The Militant Archives:

This may or may not be a picture of the Mili-Teen!
There were some old school streamliner locomotives on display!
Even better - there were some old-school steam locomotives on display too!
Don't call it a "choo-choo," the whistles sounded like steamships!
A glimpse of the future: The Mili-Teen had his first encounter with the Metro Blue Line at this event!
Here's film footage of Union Station's 50th anniversary in 1989 filmed by K. Rutherford:


Unknown said...

Has the Militant seen this video about the Blue Line when it was still under construction?

Anonymous said...

The site is very informative and has alot of cool stuff about Los Angeles.Though I don't see anything about motorcycle sportbike gatherings or where the people who ride bikes,bikers,go now and meet on Wednesday bike nights in the Valley.