Union Station’s 10 Coolest Architectural Gems

The 75th Anniversary of L.A.’s Train Transportation Hub Is the Perfect Time to Dig Into Its Past

1. Two-toned, five-inch terracotta tiles in the outer courtyards add dimension and color

2. A diagonal brick line represents the border to the former edge of Chinatown

These sleek, angular light fixtures were ultra-trendy Art Deco design elements back in the 1930s

4. These Mission-style lanterns, like all the lights in Union Station, were custom designed

5. Each room in the station has a unique hand-stenciled pattern on its ornate coffered ceilings

6. This decorative star shape—modeled after a compass—appears all over the station, in all kinds of materials

7. These curved bronze wall mounts house a hidden keyhole to open and close the Venetian blinds

8. Graceful, scroll-like forms adorn the corners of a few special places in the station

9. The strip lights in the passage tunnel once seemed futuristic

10. Disembarking from a train into the open air was an iconic L.A. experience

As a native Angeleno with a father who is a public-transit enthusiast, I’ve been through 800 North Alameda Street many times, wearing many different hats. As a fan of new L.A. things, I rode the first Gold Line from South Pasadena to downtown in 2003. As a photography student, I used the station for education and inspiration. As a commuter, I’ve spent my fair share of time on the Metro rail below ground and the Metrolink and Amtrak lines above ground. And this week, as a detective of sorts, I dug into the place’s remarkable history.

Open Art Logo FINAL JPEG

Los Angeles’ Union Station opened on May 3, 1939 and turns 75 this year. It’s now the subject of a new exhibition organized by the Getty, which has a Union Station archive of architectural drawings and sketches. If you go to the exhibition, which is hosted at the Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Library, you’ll also see treasures from the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens and the Automobile Club of Southern California.

Like L.A. itself, Union Station is a cultural hybrid, sporting a unique blend of Mission Revival, Southwest, Spanish, and Art Deco styles. It took nearly seven years to plan and build—and you can see all that time in the details of the station.

Since our station is still used, much of these details go unnoticed. I’m guilty of dashing through the South Patio without stopping to smell the roses (many are in bloom this time of year!). But perhaps we forget the architectural herald of Union Station because it seems so timeless—it’s simply part of the Los Angeles aesthetic.

Here are 10 details you won’t want to miss next time you’re running to catch your train.

No Further West: The Story of Los Angeles Union Station is on view at the Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Library, May 2–August 10, 2014.

Photos and text by Sarah Waldorf
Sarah Waldorf is a native Angeleno, photographer, and social media coordinator at the Getty.

“Open Art” is an arts engagement project of Zócalo Public Square and the Getty.

Primary Editor: Joe Mathews. Secondary Editor: Sarah Rothbard.


Send A Letter To the Editors

    Please tell us your thoughts. Include your name and daytime phone number, and a link to the article you’re responding to. We may edit your letter for length and clarity and publish it on our site.

    (Optional) Attach an image to your letter. Jpeg, PNG or GIF accepted, 1MB maximum.