During the late 1800s, the need for a new railroad depot in Kansas City grew to a decision point. The city of 200,000 citizens had outgrown the old Union Depot, built in the West Bottoms for a population of only 60,000. As the community explored new sites and considered the possible expansion, the second great flood of Kansas City struck in 1903, nearly destroying the Union Depot and ensuring the constricted site had no future.
As early as 1901, the railroads had secretly approached architects about designs for the new station, finally selecting Jarvis Hunt in 1906. Hunt was an outspoken proponent of the City Beautiful movement, an effort to combine well-designed buildings and street plans with green spaces in the urban streetscape. Kansas City commissions included The Commerce Building at 922 Walnut in 1907 and the Kansas City Star building at 18th Street and Grand Avenue in 1909. Jarvis Hunt's Union Station became the most prominent architectural contribution to the City Beautiful movement in Kansas City.
The grand opening of Union Station Kansas City on October 30, 1914, celebrated the third largest train station in the country and a building designed to last over 200 years. The ticket window opened at 11 p.m. that day and the first purchase went to Wichita businessman, F.W. Hockaday. The first trains began running in and out of the station at midnight on October 31.
The interior of Union Station was designed to serve every traveler need. The ticket office and main lobby were encased in the soaring head house, along with railroad offices, restaurants, the city's largest barbershop, a post office and a drug store. A small jail and an emergency hospital space were also included in the station. The architectural design utilized three sub-levels of the station to reduce collisions between departing passengers, baggage transportation and local citizens using the station's services. Arriving passengers were channeled down concourses on either side of the north waiting room toward the grand lobby, allowing separate space for those arriving and departing. The complex was lit, heated and cooled by its own power plant, located west of the Station.
Local residents claimed Union Station as their own and enthusiastically utilized the structure. The large clock hung from the ceiling between the lobby and waiting room served as a meeting location for many businessmen, couples and gatherings. The rose-brown marble interior walls of the station gave visual warmth to the immense space and were accented by vividly painted plaster ceilings and terra cotta floors in geometric designs. The Harvey House coffee shop and elegant Westport room were well known for their popular meals and efficient service.
Train travel began to decline in the 1950s and the need for a massive railroad station became less important to Kansas City. As time passed, the north waiting room was closed, and the monumental structure gradually took on the quality of a white elephant-too big, unneeded and too difficult to maintain. Although Union Station was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, the building began to seriously deteriorate. Local preservationists offered a variety of plans to save and use the building, but it wasn't until the successful ratification of the bi-state tax in 1996 that fully-supported plans to preserve the building began. That bi-state sales tax -- the first in the country -- was approved by voters in Kansas and Missouri to raise funds for the restoration of Union Station.
Today, Union Station stands as a vivid reminder of inspired vision, determination and a collective sense of civic history and pride. Union Station, once again, is a vibrant place and has become THE place where Kansas City Connects, Creates, Discovers and Celebrates!
Copy courtesy of Kansas City Public Library kclibrary.org.
Daily arrivals and departures from Union Station.
- The Southwest Chief operates between Chicago and Los Angeles, with Kansas City Union Station as an important stop.
- The Missouri River Runner travels from Kansas City to St. Louis and includes additional stops in Independence, Lees Summit, Warrensburg, Sedalia, Jefferson City, Hermann, Washington and Kirkwood.
Visit the AMTRAK WEB SITE for more information.