A Look Back at L.A.'s Union Station, on Its 75th Anniversary

A new exhibit looks at the history of the iconic structure through photographs and architectural drawings.

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J. Paul Getty Trust

Los Angeles's Union Station is celebrating its 75th anniversary this month. To celebrate, the Getty Research Institute and the L.A. Public Library are running an exhibit on its history.

Titled No Further West: The Story of Los Angeles Union Station, the exhibit, which starts today, looks back on a building that has hardly changed since serving its first passengers in May 1939.

After decades of planning and civic debate dating back to 1910, ground finally broke on what would become Union Station in 1933. The commission went to the same men who built L.A. City Hall, architects John Parkinson and Donald B. Parkinson. The father and son duo eventually prepared four different plans for the site and collaborated with many other architects on the project. As a result, a surprising mix of styles are experienced throughout the building, including Mission Revival, Southwest, Spanish, and Art Deco. 

While Los Angeles gained an architectural treasure with Union Station, it lost its original Chinatown by building on the chosen site, an action that helped give birth to some of L.A.'s earliest preservation movements. For many, streamlining the city's passenger rail service was worth the loss.

"Angelenos saw the establishment of a union station as a crucial part of the development of the region from a pueblo on the western frontier to the west coast’s major metropolis," says Marlyn Musicant, lead curator of the exhibition. 

A major part of the exhibit, at the L.A. Public Library until August 10, is the impressive collection of historical images and architectural drawings, many of which are on public display for the first time ever. Through the visuals, one obtains a better sense of how ambitious Union Station was, what it replaced, and just how well its design has endured three quarters of a century later:

Corner Apablasa Street and Alameda Street, ca. 1933. Gelatin silver print. The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA 
 
Arcade Depot, Southern Pacific Railroad, ca. 1900. Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Union Station Ticket Concourse, 2013. Photo: John Kiffe, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. © J. Paul Getty Trust

Wallace C. Bonsall American, 1902-1986. East Wall Main Concourse Section XI, 1938. Charcoal pencil, graphite pencil, architectural vellum. Sheet: 46 x 98.8 cm (18 1/8 x 38 7/8 in.) The Getty Research Institute.

 
Left: Edward Warren Hoak, American, 1901–1978. Tower Section XII, November 9, 1937. Charcoal pencil, architectural vellum. Sheet: 66.5 x 47.2 cm (26 3/16 x 18 9/16 in.) The Getty Research Institute. Right: Exterior view, Los Angeles Union Station, 2013. Photo: John Kiffe, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles © J. Paul Getty Trust

Donald Parkinson and John Parkinson. Alameda Street Elevation, Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, July 16, 1936. Sheet: 65.1 x 165.4 cm (25 5/8 x 65 1/8 in.) The Getty Research Institute

Doorway Ornament, details, section XIV, January 25, 1938. Graphite and charcoal pencil on architectural vellum. The Getty Research Institute

Top image: Edward Warren Hoak, American, 1901 - 1978. Main Concourse Section XII, March 6, 1938. Black pencil, red pencil, architectural vellum. Sheet: 63.5 x 82.2 cm (25 x 32 3/8 in.). The Getty Research Institute

No Further West: The Story of Los Angeles Union Station, is organized by the Getty Research Institute and presented at the Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Library. It is on view May 2 through August 10, 2014

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