Union Station – Then and now (part 2)
March 4, 2023
In the Feb. 18 issue of The Loop newspaper began the story of the restoration of the world-famous Union Station located in downtown Los Angeles as it was explored by a group of 19 travelers from Tehachapi who took the Metrolink from Lancaster to Union Station on Jan. 28.
The Tehachapi group was made up of members of Friends of the Depot, the Heritage League, the Tehachapi Railroad Club and guests. Dave McMenamin of the Los Angeles Conservancy took the group on a tour of the Union Station Complex that had undergone a major restoration between 2013 and 2021. It was during that project that workers discovered the art treasures that had been hidden for years by caked tobacco tar, smoke and dirt. (See the Feb. 18 issue of The Loop newspaper for details of the terminal restoration.)
Union Station, like many across the United States, had a Fred Harvey restaurant. Harvey formed an agreement with Santa Fe Railroad to build restaurants at depots across the country. For many years, the famous restaurant chain served depots across the country serving passengers and soldiers returning home from World War II. The waitresses were known as the Harvey Girls. These proper young women, who came west to work in the restaurants, lived communally and were known for their white uniforms. They were immortalized by the 1946 movie "The Harvey Girls" starring Judy Garland. Many still remember the song "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" that came from that film. A bar was added at Union Station during World War II. The restaurant at Los Angeles Union Station was designed by Mary Colter who also designed the El Tovar Hotel located in Grand Canyon National Park. Like the rest of Union Station, Colter used a mix of Spanish Colonial Revival and Art Deco designs with touches of Southwest elements, like the restaurant floor that was designed to look like a Navajo rug. A parrot motif is displayed on the walls covered with tiles made in Valencia, Spain.
The Harvey House restaurant opened at Union Station in 1939 and closed in 1967, then being used only for special events or shooting movies. When MTA bought Union Station in 2011, it became part of the restoration project. In 2019 Harvey House became the Imperial Western Beer Company and was then renamed Homebound Brewhaus. The atmosphere is much like a Bavarian beer hall serving pretzels, bratwurst, burgers and a large selection of beer on tap.
From the terminal to the trains is a long tunnel. Our guide told us that there are only a few remaining Amtrak passenger trains that go through Union Station compared to "the old days." Today most of the traffic comes from Metrolink and the subways. Near the end of the tunnel is a floor-to-ceiling salt water aquarium and the mural "City of Dreams" painted in 1990 by muralist Richard Wyatt. An escalator takes you up to the beautiful designed Transit Plaza, the bus terminal, and One Gateway Plaza, the 398 foot Metro Headquarters.
A trip up the first escalator in the headquarters building will leave you facing three murals painted by James Newman. The mural in the center represents Los Angeles in 1890. To the left of 1890 is a mural representing Los Angeles in 1910 and to the right of 1890 is a mural representing Los Angeles in 1960. At the top of the next escalator is a Newman mural painted in 1995 representing Los Angeles in 2000.
Not to be missed is a view from the deck of One Gateway Plaza providing a view of downtown Los Angeles including the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. According to McMenamin, the entire restoration of the Union Station complex had cost about $11 million. He said there are still over 100 trains that go through Union Station every day.
The trip from Tehachapi to Union Station and back can be done in a day. If you leave on the first train in the morning out of Lancaster, you can be back in time for a late dinner. A Saturday is recommended as you can get a weekend Metrolink pass for $10. While you are at Union Station, remember that you are just across the road from Olvera Street and are near China Town if you want to have a different luncheon experience. This is a trip to put on your bucket list.