Big changes are coming to St Louis’ Union Station. That’s sensational news for Ruth and me. We have visited it only once since moving to the Northwest, and we were saddened to see that it was moving towards the emptiness and dereliction that followed the golden age of train travel in many cities.
Union Station’s cornerstone was placed in 1893. Romanesque in design and modeled after a station in Carcassone, France, Union Station had more than 300 regularly scheduled passenger trains bringing sightseers to St. Louis for the 1904 World’s Fair that introduced the ice cream cone to the world. The Fair brought 19 million people to St. Louis. At the time of the fair the Union Station complex contained the largest train shed in the United States. At its height Union Station served 22 railroads, more than any other single terminal in the world. By 1920 more than 25 million were passing through it each year. It was truly a terminal. All trips ended here with each train backing into the station for passenger unloading. In 1943 its Fred Harvey Restaurant served more than 2.7 million meals. There was decline in the 1950s and beyond, but a $150 million restoration occurred in the 1980s and Union Station became a major tourist attraction with restaurants, shops, a 539-room hotel, etc. But that didn’t last.
Lodging Hospitality Management bought this National Landmark in 2012. This company has already renovated the station’s Grand Hall, which now has a stunning, 65-feet-long bar and a comfortable event space with laser lights dancing on the ceiling each evening starting at 5 pm. There are actually 12 individual shows. Ruth & I saw 3 of them. My favorite was “Ceilings”. These amazing spectacles were designed by Technomedia Solutions from Orlando, the people who brought Michael Jackson’s ONE to Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay. Nine restored rail cars now take visitors on private, 3-hour excursions outside Union Station.
By 2018 there will be a 75,000-square-feet aquarium in the former shopping area. Construction begins this fall, and I anticipate that the rope bridge over the shark tank in this $45 million attraction will be a stupendous success. But this is just one of the major changes that will occur. The existing lake will be redone with a fountain feature that will draw visitors like The Bellagio’s. A ferris wheel with 42 enclosed gondolas has been proposed. There will be 48 hotel rooms with train themes.