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Q5: KC landmark to celebrate 100th birthday

October 29, 2014

Union Station, one of Kansas City's biggest and best landmarks, will host a celebration at the end of this month and into next, along with an assortment of activities, commemorating its 100th anniversary.
Nico Gray, a Union Station marketing and advertising consultant, discusses the anniversary and all that's planned in this Q5.

1. When will Union Station celebrate its 100th birthday and what will the gala include? How can people get tickets for the gala?
"Union Station will celebrate its 100th anniversary on Oct. 30. Union Station has had a phenomenal fundraising campaign and the Centennial Gala is the one fundraising event being held. Thanks to the tremendous support, the Centennial Gala has reached capacity, and it is a sold-out event now. The Centennial Gala event will take guests back in time to 1914 and then on a journey through the station’s 100-year history, through the menu, music and entertainment."

2. What events and exhibits have been planned for the Centennial Celebration Open House Weekend, Nov. 1 and 2?
"On Oct. 31, Union Station will unveil two new permanent exhibits featuring: 5,000 square feet of artifacts and stories, 100 years of Union Station history presented in rich and interactive formats and a cutting edge virtual history tour created by VML. This opening ceremony for the two exhibits will begin at 10 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 31.  Guests can then view the new, free exhibit following the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"Open House Weekend schedule highlights includes, on Nov. 1: 10 a.m: 100th anniversary ceremony outside in front of Union Station, weather permitting; 11 a.m.-4  p.m.:  family activities such as face painting, balloon animals, LEGOL and SeaLife, stilt walkers and photo booth, history lectures; Union Station history with Peter Hansen; The Fred Harvey Story and Harvey Girls-Tom Taylor and Dee Harris; World War I history-Doran Cart; Union Station renovation–Greg Allen and Sally Swank; African-American Porters-Henry Lyons; shoe shiners–JoeLouis Mattox; history and themed films: 3-D Digital History Show by Quixotic, shown several times throughout the day, Union Station massacre documentary, Meet The Past: Ernest Hemingway, A Stitch in Time: Nelly Don documentary;  live music/performances: Vine Street Rumble,  a KC Historic jazz band, Brush Creek Follies Band, Bad Dadz Band, Trains Across America–Theater for Young America, The Union Station Story, a one-woman show; and 6–10 p.m., Centennial swing dance featuring Dave Stephens Band and Lonnie McFadden. Get a free ticket online at
"On Nov. 2, the schedule includes:  10 a.m., Kansas City’s largest yoga gathering, and free admission to Science City until 1 p.m., limited to the first 1,000 guests; noon-4 p.m.: costumed actors tell Union Station story, family activities, face painting, balloon animals, photo booth, and 100th anniversary performance showcase-youth performers on several stages inside of Union Station; noon-3 p.m.: Kansas City Chiefs game in extreme screen theatre; and all weekend: Amtrak exhibit train tours, model rail exhibit, Science City special pricing, and premier of two new Union Station history exhibits, one static and one virtual."
3. Can you tell us about the history of the station and its importance as the region's transportation hub for many decades, including the great number of soldiers who traveled through on their way to and from World Wars I and II?
 "Union Station became the region’s transportation hub for decades, serving as the gateway to the West for many people traveling through to other parts of the country. During the 1930s, Union Station played host to one of the decade’s highlights, as the first two streamlined trains in America both saw daily service here. Built from new materials like aluminum and stainless steel, and powered by internal combustion, the Union Pacific’s M10000 and the Burlington Route’s Pioneer Zephyr were the vanguard of a revolution in railroading. To a Depression weary populace, the new trains held the promise of better times.
It has been estimated that more than half the men who served in uniform during the war years passed through Union Station and it was not uncommon for the Station to see 300 trains and automobiles a day. 
"A sense of destiny, the whispered goodbyes and the tearful reunions with loved ones took place under Union Station’s roof. The reunions would come later and they would happen at Union Station. In 1945, passenger traffic hit a record high of 678,363 travelers with a significant number of armed forces personnel passing through the Station on their way home."
4. What happened to the station in the 1960s and 1970s when train travel declined and Union Station fell into disrepair? How did people across the region come together to rescue the landmark?
"Following the war, Americans bought automobiles and the airline industry grew. The Kansas city Terminal Railway tried to avoid the decline in rail traffic with a few updates to the Station. Jarvis Hunt’s semi-circular ticket counter was chopped down, the mahogany benches in the North Waiting Room were replaced, and the ceiling closed from 18 feet to 9 feet. The huge space had become expensive to heat so Amtrak plopped an inflatable plastic bubble on the east end of Grand Hall. It didn’t’ last long — in 1985 it was abandoned.
"Union Station worked with city leaders and public and private sectors to adapt a re-use plan. Its centerpiece was Science City and included theatres, restaurants and offices. Financing came from public and private sources and most innovatively, from the bi-state sales tax that raised $118 million, half the project cost. For area residents, the yes vote on the bi-state tax was a recognition of the Station’s role in the life of this big small town."
5. Union Station offers a wide range of exhibits and events each year. What can readers look forward to seeing in 2015? What exhibits were the gems for 2014 so far? How would you describe the valuable role this historical treasure provides to the local area and visitors from all over the world?
"Union Station is Kansas City’s monument and favorite landmark. Through the restored beauty of its original construction, visitors can travel back in time to experience the grandeur of this transportation hub and civic center. It still is a working train station, as Amtrak has several trains in which passengers can board trains each day. The building continues to serve as Kansas City’s civic center today with WiFi available throughout the public spaces, and through a number of relevant attractions including Kansas City’s Science Center and Planetarium, the Regnier Extreme Screen Theatre (largest digital 3D screen in the region), live theatre and unique restaurants and shops. Union Station is the preferred site for many large community celebrations held throughout the year, and it is one of the top destinations among visitors to Kansas City.
"Kansas City and the region have proven an appetite for world-class, educational tours. Union Station has established a strong reputation for presenting exhibitions of great quality and variety.
"2014 exhibits:
• Union Station was selected as the first site in North America to host The Discovery of King TUT. The exhibit has been seen by more than 5 million people in European cities and Union Station welcomed more than 115,000 guests in the five-month run. It featured more than 1,000 brilliant recreations and filled nearly 20,000 square feet, the biggest exhibition held in the Bank of America Gallery.
• Xtreme Bugs is Union Station's next traveling exhibit and will open its doors on Oct. 17. The exhibit features 23 giant sized animatronic insects and more than 100 static insect models. Affordable and supported with a terrific educator guide, it's ideal for families and school groups. Vibrant backdrops illustrate bug habitats and guests will experience how the world would appear from a bug’s eye view. Xtreme Bugs will be at Union Station until April 12, 2015.
• Science City: Spark!Lab at Science City opened in August 2014. It’s a hands-on invention space where children are actively engaged in the invention process and identify themselves as inventive thinkers and doers. It’s the third National Network site to open in the U.S. and first of three new sites made possible through the support of the Ford Motor Company. Originally developed for the Smithsonian, the Spark!Lab National Network now has four partner sites around the world. New Science City Entrance 'RE' will be opening at the end of 2014. The space incorporates every day materials and industrial objects into the entrance to the Science Center. It features a historical clock and stand, an Echo Tube made from water drainage tubing, and a Blacklight Maze and much more.
"Two new exhibits will be opening inside Science City at the end of year 2014; Genetics: Unlock the Code and Water: Every Last Drop. Combined, both exhibits fill nearly 6,000 square feet and are the winners of the 2013 Battle of the Brains contest.
"Genetics: Unlock the Code explores the basic building blocks of genetics and features 10 interactive exhibits, including DNA Dance Off, Trait Tree and an educational lab.
"Water: Every Last Drop focuses on water conservation and sustainability. It features 10 interactive exhibits, including an interactive sand table, two Water tables and a dedicated classroom.
"2015 exhibits:
• Union Station will be opening a national traveling exhibit in summer 2015. Check back to for more details at a later date."