Union Station: A grand opening

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.


Metro Motion celebrates beautiful Union Station’s 75th anniversary

Union Station’s 75th: Seymour Rosen celebrates the opening

8 replies

  1. I have the wonderful opportunity to be a Volunteer at the ” Information Booth ” located just inside the Front Entrance to Union Station at Alameda Street … the interesting Travelers and Visitors from near and far make the job fun. The ambiance inside the Train Depot transports you to a time long ago when Travel was an Adventure … Its one of the Treasures of Southern California. The upcoming 75th Anniversary Celebration will find me enjoying the Entertainment, the Exhibits, the Artifacts from the Past on Display and being Excited like a Kid again. ALL ABOARD !

  2. Good News! the Los Angeles Union Station Historical Society has been organized to collect historic objects and archives and to act to protect and preserve the artistic and historic heritage of LA Union Station/LAUPT. We are in the beginning stages and ask any interested person to send their name, post office address, email address and/or phone contact to our email address: laushs@earthlink.net for updates on the future launch of our website.

  3. Yeah, I’d like to find more images/schematics of where the PE and LAT came into Union Station.

  4. Freight trains ran up and down Alameda until about 2000.

    Not usually mentioned is that the Pacific Electric had a large presents at Union Station. Not for passenger service but for local freight, small package delivery and mail. The L. A. Railway served the Station via the entrance from Macy St (now Cesar Chavez) where the Amtrak buses enter and exit the terminal today.

  5. May 3, 2014 will be the 75th Anniversary of LA Union Station and National Train Day. The most comprehensive private collection of Union Station mementoes ever assembled will be on exhibit that day in Amtrak’s Metropolitan Lounge on the second floor–the only available secure location. The artifacts include: timetables, badges, vintage souvenirs, posters and even the long lost oil painting of the station from the station master’s office. Entrance to the lounge requires an Amtrak Business Class or Sleeping Car Class ticket. (A one way Amtrak Business Class ticket between LA Union Station and Glendale, CA, is about $18.00.) Final details are still pending.

  6. Love these posts. Great to read they’ll be repeating through out the month. Thanks.