Click on a photo to see a larger version or click on the first version to begin a slideshow-type display. Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Railroad Heritage Foundation Collection.
This is the first of a series of posts on the history of Union Station that will run on Tuesdays and Fridays throughout April. The station celebrates its 75th anniversary on May 3.
The Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal finally opened to the public on May 3, 1939 and it was celebrated with a massive parade down Alameda Street. The theme was the history of transportation and the parade included covered wagons, stagecoaches, Pony Express riders and several massive steam-powered locomotives.
The station’s grand opening was a huge deal for what was still in many ways an unsophisticated western town, albeit one whose population mushroomed since 1920 to about 1.5 million people in 1939. The city finally had a central passenger terminal. The L.A. Times reported that people hung from trees to get a better look at the festivities. Some fainted from the heat.
The parade was followed by tours of the station and a 45-minute production called “Romance of the Rails.” The free show along the tracks inside Union Station was subtitled “California’s Story of Transportation,” and the program notes that it was adapted and directed by John Ross Reed. No one now seems to know who John Ross Reed was. Was he a famous Hollywood director of the time?
This would make some sense because it appears that the movie studios were more than a little involved in the opening. Along with thanking the Santa Fe, Southern Pacific and Union Pacific — the railroads that would for the first time be served by one L.A. station — the program thanks the movie studios: Cecil B. DeMille Productions, Paramount Pictures, Universal and the Federal Theatre Project, a New Deal project that funded live performances. How and why were the studios involved? We don’t know for sure and checking with the studios, neither do they. Any of you train or film buffs know?
You needed a bleacher seat to see “Romance of the Rails,” the free program that followed the parade and was repeated multiple times for three days until the $11-million station opened for service on May 7. The pageant included scenes from the founding of Los Angeles, Sutter’s Mill, the transcontinental railroad, the Santa Fe, Union Pacific, the Gay Nineties … you get the idea.
Check out the photos above. They were loaned to Metro for the 75th anniversary by the Los Angeles Railroad Heritage Foundation. And if you know anything more about the opening, drop us a comment.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES: