Home » Downtown »Featured »History/Preservation »Retail » Currently Reading:

Long Vacant St. Louis Union Station Reopened 30 Years Ago

August 28, 2015 Downtown, Featured, History/Preservation, Retail 1 Comment

Tomorrow marks 30 years since Union station reopened as a “festival marketplace.”

A festival marketplace is a realization by James W. Rouse and the Rouse Company in the United States of an idea conceived by Benjamin C. Thompson of Benjamin Thompson and Associates for European style markets taking hold in the United States in an effort to revitalize downtown areas in major US cities in the late 20th century. Festival marketplaces were a leading downtown revitalization strategy in American cities during the 1970s and 1980s. The guiding principles are a mix of local tenants instead of chain stores, design of shop stalls and common areas to energize the space, and uncomplicated architectural ornament in order to highlight the goods. (Wikipedia)

This occurred just as I was starting my freshman year of college — studying architecture. The reimagining of Union Station, and other historic buildings, was influential during my college years. Just 5 years before reopening, Union Station looked so bad its Grand Hall was used as the location of a big fight scene in Escape From New York!

As noted yesterday, I moved to St. Louis just 5 years after Union Station reopened. At that time the retail portion of Union Station was still doing well. It’s impossible to say how well it would’ve done if it hadn’t received competition from downtown’s St. Louis Centre mall and the Westroads Shopping Center not been rebuilt into the Saint Louis Galleria. Lacking big anchors the retail probably would’ve declined regardless of competition.

When it reopened in 1985 the midway contained glass retail booths. These have been removed, the midway is now event space. October 2011 photo
When it reopened in 1985 the midway contained glass retail booths. These have been removed, the midway is now event space. October 2011 photo

Some history:

On September 1, 1894 St. Louis Union Station opened as the largest, most beautiful terminal in the United States. This enormous project was built at the cost of $6.5 million. The gem of this new Station was the Grand Hall with its gold leaf, Romanesque arches, 65-foot barrel vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows. The most magnificent of these stained glass windows is the “Allegorical Window” which is majestically framed by the famous “Whispering Arch.”

Just beyond the Head house was the Midway, which was the midway point where friends bid farewell or welcomed home visitors from across the nation and around the world. In its heyday in the mid 1940’s, the Midway was the spot where over 100,000 passengers a day traversed on their way to or from a train. The platform area was covered by an enormous single-span train shed designed by George H. Pegram. This was not only one of the largest train sheds ever built, but it also covered the greatest number of tracks. After World War II, the general public began choosing other forms of transportation. In 1976, this magnificent station was designated a National Historic Landmark. Finally, on October 31, 1978, the last train pulled out of St. Louis Union Station. (Union Station)

What this doesn’t say is the newly formed Amtrak (1971) ceased using the head house a few years before the last train left in 1978. Many wished train service was still at Union Station, but the back in train shed just doesn’t work well for low volume train stations.

The Grand Hall in Union Station. Photo by William Zbaren from the book American City: St. Louis Architecture
The Grand Hall in Union Station. Photo by William Zbaren from the book American City: St. Louis Architecture — used with permission

Yes, the very same space where the Escape From New York fight scene was filmed. I’m very glad outside developers & bankers saw what locals couldn’t.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Sgt Stadanko says:

    How prophetic that “Escape From New York” was filmed here. This trailer looks like a future downtown St. Louis given the uptick in crime & lawlessness over the years. The only thing missing is thugs, hordes of homeless people, & the “Reverend” Larry Rice in an eyepatch and should be pretty accurate. Thanks, Sarge

     

Comment on this Article:

Advertisement



FACEBOOK POSTS

Unable to display Facebook posts.
Show error

Error: (#10) This endpoint requires the 'manage_pages' permission or the 'Page Public Content Access' feature. Refer to https://developers.facebook.com/docs/apps/review/login-permissions#manage-pages and https://developers.facebook.com/docs/apps/review/feature#reference-PAGES_ACCESS for details.
Type: OAuthException
Code: 10
Please refer to our Error Message Reference.

Archives

Categories

Advertisement


Subscribe