Today, the St. Louis Union Station, also known as SLUS, is no longer serving dozens of passenger trains headed east and west. It is however one of the largest in our country, built during an era when the nation was expanding rapidly westward. The building was beautifully restored and is now used as an entertainment and shopping location with museums (including an operational model railroad), plays, and restaurants. There are also tours (and even a hotel) available.
The station was built in the mid-1890s. It served its original purpose until 1978 when Amtrak’s last long-distance passenger train left its magnificent train shed. MetroLink, the city’s light rail transit service, continues to serve the station directly below the subway tunnel train shed.
The shed has been transformed into an outdoor entertainment area with an aquarium, a mall, and an outdoor eating area. It was a remarkable transformation. View of St. Louis Union Station in November 1977, shortly before Amtrak left the station. .
A Brief History of St. Louis Union Station
St. Louis was “The Gateway To The West” in the latter ten years of the 19th Century, as it was located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Just over 20 years ago, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed. New lines are still being constructed across the Frontier. Several eastern and western trunk lines or future subsidiaries also terminated in the city, such as:
Iron Mountain & Southern (Missouri Pacific).
Ohio & Mississippi (Baltimore & Ohio)
Louisville & Nashville
The “Big Four” (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis) are controlled by the New York Central
St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (Frisco)
New York, Chicago & St. Louis (Nickel Plate Road).
After the Civil War, St. Louis grew to become the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country, after New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Missouri Pacific’s train #11, “Colorado Eagle,” is waiting to depart Union Station. Gulf, Mobile & Ohio E7A #2102 has train #4, the “The Limited,” which will also depart on April 17, 1963. Its gateway status, which allowed many westbound settlers to pass through the city, was a major factor in its growth. St. Louis was aware of its importance and wanted a station that would combine several terminals used throughout the city. It launched a global design competition, inviting proposals from architects across the United States and Europe. Link & Cameron was chosen as the winner.
According to Brian Solomon’s Railroad Stations, Thomas C. Link, Edward B. Cameron and they proposed a design that reflected the city’s French heritage, in Norman Revival style (also known under the French Romanesque style). Hans and April Halberstadt write in their book, The American Train Depot & Roundhouse that the building evoked a great chateau on the Loire River. This terminal was cut from nearby Missouri granite and has a distinct appearance. It is also different from other Midwestern cities like Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Indianapolis built between 1878-1890. Gulf, Mobile & Ohio’s #4 train, the northbound “Limited” departs St. Louis Union Station on April 16, 1963, bound for Chicago.
The most notable exterior feature of the building was its 280-foot clock tower and towering Romanesque arches. The interior featured a 65-foot vaulted ceiling in Grand Hall and stained-glass windows (manufactured at Davis & Chambers, St. Louis). The interior was divided into three sections. The Headhouse was where the Grand Hall was located. It featured mosaics/frescoes from Healy & Millet (also of St. Louis), gold leaf details, and scagliola surface. The Midway, which was the main concourse measuring 610 feet in length and 70 feet in width, was located at 610 feet by 70 feet. The 600-foot-wide Trainshed, designed by George H. Pegram, featured 32 tracks over nearly 12 acres. The original tenants, MP, StLIM&S and Wabash, O&M and L&N, formed the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis in 1889 as construction and design plans were merged. The Aloe Plaza, named after Mrs. Louis P. Aloe who was the spearhead of the project, was completed in 1940 for $100,000. The bronze statues depict the meeting of the Mississippi River and Missouri Rivers. They were created by Carl Milles from Sweden. The station combined 31 rail lines and served 22 railroads at its peak (some of them later joining the association). Many of the most impressive trains to ever be in service have passed through the TRRA’s rails, including:
B&O’s National Limited Diplomat and Diplomat;
Knickerbocker NYC and Southwestern Limited;
Missouri Pacific’s Missouri River Eagle. Missourian, Ozarker. Southerner. Sunflower. Sunshine Special.
Abraham Lincoln in the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio
L&N’s Humming Bird
Pennsylvania’s Spirit Of St. Louis (joint partnership with MP)
All the Wabash’s named train, including the Bluebird or the Wabash Cannon Ball
The TRRA railroad, which was built in 1926, is still in use today as a freight carrier by BNSF Railway and CSX Transportation.
Missouri Pacific PA-2 #8033 departs St. Louis Union Station on the “Texas Eagle”. (St. Louis, Texas).
The St. Louis Union Station was opened to the public on September 1, 1894, amid much fanfare at a cost of $6.5 million. It was the first mall in the country, with shops lining the arcade behind Grand Hall. The atmosphere is open, light, and airy. It was retired after a mere 10 years of service. In 1903, it was remodeled to meet the needs of the many visitors who came to the city for the 1904 World’s Fair. It was last updated in the 1940s. The interior was the main focus. In the 1950s and 1960s, it slowly declined as the traveling public switched to highways and airlines.
Amtrak assumed most intercity railway services in the country on May 1, 1971. Union Station was left with three trains calling its trainshed. The last train to depart was finally the Inter-American (Chicago-Laredo, Texas) on October 31, 1978. Oppenheimer Properties bought the building for $5.5 million, which was a far cry from its predecessors. The new owners immediately began a major renovation of the structure. They envisioned a popular entertainment venue, even if there was no long-distance rail service. After a $150 million restoration, it was reopened to the public in August 1985. Saint Louis Union Station today is in better shape than it was during railroad ownership. It has become a landmark in the city thanks to its lavish interior and renovated rooms. There are more than 20 places to eat inside, as well as many shops and specialty shops. The station underwent a major renovation and upgrade in 2011. In 2011, the Marriott Hotel moved several stores to the next-door train shed. It has been able to offer more luxurious accommodations for visitors and travelers. Although it was recently discussed to eliminate the four tracks that served the station, Metro Link is still available for service.