Thursday, June 26, 2014

#71: St. Louis Union Station

Another iconic place in St. Louis, even though parts of it are on life support at the moment. This was a thriving place for 50+ years, but up until recent years, it has been on a period of decline. I am probably part of the last generation who has good memories of the place, but not when it served as a train station. I'm talking about the days back when it was the place to go for shopping, among other things. Every year after Christmas, my family would go to St. Louis Centre and Union Station and spend our money and gift certificates. It was always a cool time of the year, and I didn't mind the crowd. After all, I was a little kid and I had every reason to be cheery!

Sometime in the mid-90s, we quit going, and our traditions changed. St. Louis Centre had already been on the decline, and the final nail in the coffin occurred sometime in the early 21st century. On the other hand, Union Station wasn't what it always was. In 2002, I did my internship at Emmis Communications (right behind Union Station) and I would make trips back and forth to eat lunch there. At that time, they still had a decent amount of stores and restaurants, along with a few attractions. Every other year after that, in the mid to late 2000s up until now, I have watched things disappear just like that. I can recall the upstairs part of the food court being fully occupied by Hooter's, which is long gone. On the last day of my internship at Emmis, me and my supervisor ate lunch at an Asian buffet place which no longer exists. A huge portion of the mall is now occupied by the hotel. It always makes me wonder why and how so many parts are vacant in this once-thriving place. I went in for lunch in May 2014 after I snapped the cake, and there are a lot of restaurants in the food court still.

It goes without saying, times have changed. Shopping malls have become a thing of the past, despite of the still-thriving St. Louis Galleria, St. Louis Outlet (formerly the Mills), and St. Clair Square. Union Station is just one of those whose status as a shopping center crumbled. There have been talks of revitalizing, but not many people are paying attention...yet.

A view of Union Station from Emmis Communications
Here's a quick look at the history of Union Station:
  • Opened in 1894, consisting of three main areas: the Headhouse (which had a hotel),  a Trainshed and a Midway. 
  • Rail travel was very popular in the first half of the 20th century. At one time, Union Station would serve 100,000 passengers a day!
  • During the years following and up to the 1904 World's Fair, St. Louis Union Station was the busiest and largest rail station in the world. 
  • By 1971, Union Station was serving only three trains a day.
  • The famous photo of Harry S. Truman holding the newspaper that read 'Dewey Defeats Truman' was shot at Union Station. He was returning home to Independence, Mo.
  • In 1985, Union Station re-opened as a shopping mall and a hotel, which included a food court. It also featured many historical markers in remembrance of what the building served.

Right side of the cake

Top of the cake

An episode of KETC Channel 9's 'Living St. Louis' devoted to Union Station. This focuses on the days of WWII when soldiers left St. Louis and their families

St. Louis Union Station Hotel on FB
Wikipedia link
Official website

1820 Market St., ST. LOUIS, MO, 63103
Cake artist: Tom Hunt

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