Union Station

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by GB from Devizes on June 21, 2007

Like many of the fabulously ornate and luxurious termini constructed by Brunel for his Great Western Railway in the UK, Chicago’s Union Station is without a doubt a treasure trove of architectural delight and completely dispels the oft-held myth that a main railway station is a grimy, smelly place that only serves to sell tickets and to provide a brief stop for trains en route to far-off places.

Union Station sits at 225 S. Canal St. and occupies an area of almost ten city blocks. Its history is as colorful as its architecture.

The station came about (in plan form) in 1874 when several railroad companies (the Pennsylvania Co, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, the Chicago & Alton Railroad, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, and the Michigan Central Railroad) agreed to build a “united” station to serve Chicago on land in the city owned by the aforementioned Pennsylvania Co who also owned the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railway Co. This land was situated on the west side of the Chicago River between Madison and Van Buren Streets. Competition was however rather fierce and the Chicago and North Western Railroad Co, who were not part of the liaison, decided to build another grand station which was called rather unsurprisingly, the Chicago & North Western Passenger Terminal, which opened for business in 1911.

Although they now had a choice, the other members elected to still use the “united” station which had been open for operations since 1881. In 1913, it was unanimously agreed by the members to completely rebuild the station on a site between Adams and Jackson Streets using the services of the noted architect Daniel Burnham. The building work was actually carried out by Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White with the station opening in May 1925. The construction period was seriously hampered by World War One and a series of devastating strikes which held up proceedings for months at a time.

When it was eventually completed, it was hailed as a great success, with it’s huge Beaux-Arts “Great Hall” sitting above the tracks which all ran beneath the surrounding streets and buildings. The Hall stands at 34m high with enormous wooden benches beneath to accommodate the waiting passengers. It is now the sole surviving “American Renaissance” railroad station in the US and is the main station now for all of Amtrak’s services through the city.

The station has featured in many films, the most famous of which is “The Untouchables”. The final shoot-out scene between The FBI officers (Andy Garcia, Kevin Costner) and the Al Capone gang was filmed on the grand staircase that links the street with the waiting room concourse. Readers will no doubt recall the slow motion scene of the baby-carriage as it topples back down the steps during the fierce gun battle.

I wouldn't normally recommend that a visitor goes to "see a station" but rest assured that Union Station here in Chicago will not disappoint the architecturally-minded.
Union Station
225 South Canal St
Chicago, Illinois, 60606
(312) 655-2385


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