Union Station plans would alter and preserve

union-sta-detail-1936-gri.jpgAlameda Street elevation, charcoal pencil on architectural vellum, 1936. Getty Research Institute.

union-station-construction-acp.jpgPalm trees were planted early. USC Libraries. Regional History Collection. Via Angel City Press.

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel at the Central Library last week devoted entirely to Union Station, the icon of 1930s Los Angeles that is playing an ever-larger role in the future of downtown. The sold-out panel — No Further West: The Story of Los Angeles Union Station — for the Library Foundation's Aloud series was connected to the current exhibition upstairs at the library of the original drawings, architectural plans, photographs and other materials held by the Getty Research Institute. The Getty got the treasure trove of original documents some years ago when Ira Yellen, the late downtown developer, found the records in the basement at Union Station. The drawings and renderings are enjoyable works of art in themselves, and taken together they tell a detailed story of how Union Station was designed with a Mission Revival exterior and the melange of interior elements that were a bit out of date in 1939 but that make the station such a charming place today. D.J. Waldie calls Union Station a nearly perfect public space.

The panel covered the architectural story, the history of the Chinatown and other old L.A. institutions that were cleared away to make room, and the intricate politics required to get the railroads and the voters to approve a station to move passenger trains off the streets of the growing city. We also got a sneak peek at progress on the Union Station Master Plan, which was unveiled to the media yesterday. The plan proposes to integrate bus service and additional train lines into a bigger and more open concourse where the current tunnel passes under the tracks, removal of the parking lots in front of the station, and more commercial development. A separate but related project would alter the rail infrastructure of Union Station to allow trains to pass through and to enter the terminal from both the south and the north; currently, all trains either back in or back out to the north.

The panelists were Marlyn Musicant, Senior Exhibitions Coordinator at the Getty Research Institute who curated the exhibit and put together the gorgeous related book; Eugene Moy, vice president of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California; Jenna Hornstock, Deputy Executive Officer in Countywide Planning at Metro and project manager for the Union Station Master Plan; and Debra Gerod, a partner at Gruen Associates who also is helping guide the Union Station Master Plan. Here is the podcast.

aloud-panel-union-station.jpgThe Aloud panel, photo by Gary Leonard.

Metro rendering for a new east entrance to the station's transit center.

As part of this year's 75th anniversary of Union Station, there are two books out celebrating the icon. In addition to the Getty's book, "Los Angeles Union Station," edited by Musicant with essays by historians William Deverell and Matthew Roth, Angel City Press has published a very nice book by William Bradley called Los Angeles Union Station: Tracks to the Future. Designed by Amy Inouye, the ACP book has some photos of the construction that will blow you away. My favorite for its historical sweep is an aerial showing Chinatown not yet demolished, in relation to City Hall and the rest of downtown.


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