Union Station Kansas City: From Flood to Fabulous

In this installment of ‘Larger Than Life: Architecture Through the Ages,’ we visit a train depot built to impress.
Union Station Kansas City: From Flood to Fabulous
Architect Jarvis Hunt’s use of Beaux-Arts style architectural elements is evident in the structure’s distinct masonry designs, triangular pediments on each end, and flanking carved classical wreaths. Three massive arched windows are punctuated by a monumental stone colonnade, or series of columns. It stands as an early 20th-century testament to classical architecture, while modern scale, materials, and design dominate Kansas City’s skyline. (Courtesy of Roy Inman)
2/19/2024
Updated:
2/19/2024
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In 1878, Union Depot, designed by Asa Beebe Cross, opened in Kansas City. The building was a mix of Second Empire and Gothic Revival styles, with towers, dormers, and arched windows. The building had a clock tower over the entrance.

In 1903, the Missouri River flooded, causing devastation of the Kansas City train depot. As a result, railroad executives decided to build a new train station on higher ground. Jarvis Hunt, an architect from Chicago was selected by a consortium of 12 railroad companies to design a Beaux-Arts style building. Opened in 1914, Union Station Kansas City was designed with practicality and safety in mind, but also to impress, from both inside and out.

Over time, as more people preferred air travel, numbers declined at the station and it closed to train travel in the early 1980s. By the late 1990s, steps were taken to restore the structure and use it primarily for shops, restaurants, theaters, exhibits, and an interactive science center.

The Union Station Kansas City’s multiple entry and exit doors, are made of solid brass polished to a mirror-like shine, to signify the grandeur of the structure’s interior and exterior. (Courtesy of Roy Inman)
The Union Station Kansas City’s multiple entry and exit doors, are made of solid brass polished to a mirror-like shine, to signify the grandeur of the structure’s interior and exterior. (Courtesy of Roy Inman)
Marble floors are found throughout the station’s main interior spaces, including in this waiting hall, or Grand Plaza, which once included rows of pew-like seating for passengers waiting to board a train or greet those arriving. The station boasts an elaborate trey ceiling and multiple arched windows and carvings, yet the huge space is softened somewhat by the rose-brown walls. (Courtesy of Mark Gluksman)
Marble floors are found throughout the station’s main interior spaces, including in this waiting hall, or Grand Plaza, which once included rows of pew-like seating for passengers waiting to board a train or greet those arriving. The station boasts an elaborate trey ceiling and multiple arched windows and carvings, yet the huge space is softened somewhat by the rose-brown walls. (Courtesy of Mark Gluksman)
Three stunning 3,500-pound ornate iron and crystal chandeliers hang from the 90-foot-high ceiling of the grand lobby and complement the vividly painted molded ceiling to offer viewers a decorative feast for the eyes. (Courtesy of Roy Inman)
Three stunning 3,500-pound ornate iron and crystal chandeliers hang from the 90-foot-high ceiling of the grand lobby and complement the vividly painted molded ceiling to offer viewers a decorative feast for the eyes. (Courtesy of Roy Inman)
The Beaux-Arts style is boldly displayed in the interior views of the station’s grand hall. Beaux-Arts is a style that originated at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France, and is characterized by symmetry, but also in dramatic details. People coming and going used the grand hall as a main meeting spot. Central to the grand hall space is the 6-foot-wide hanging metal clock. Distinguishing the marble floor from the towering limestone walls is a chair-rail molding surround of pink granite. (Courtesy of Roy Inman)
The Beaux-Arts style is boldly displayed in the interior views of the station’s grand hall. Beaux-Arts is a style that originated at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France, and is characterized by symmetry, but also in dramatic details. People coming and going used the grand hall as a main meeting spot. Central to the grand hall space is the 6-foot-wide hanging metal clock. Distinguishing the marble floor from the towering limestone walls is a chair-rail molding surround of pink granite. (Courtesy of Roy Inman)
Chandeliers hang from domed medallions, which are the main features of the ceiling in the station’s grand hall. Plastered beige acorn rosettes are set against a painted blue and rose background in each ceiling panel. (Courtesy of Roy Inman)
Chandeliers hang from domed medallions, which are the main features of the ceiling in the station’s grand hall. Plastered beige acorn rosettes are set against a painted blue and rose background in each ceiling panel. (Courtesy of Roy Inman)
The station’s three enormous arched windows, with midway interior iron balconies, enable a theatrical flood of light to fill the grand lobby on sunny days. (Courtesy of Roy Inman)
The station’s three enormous arched windows, with midway interior iron balconies, enable a theatrical flood of light to fill the grand lobby on sunny days. (Courtesy of Roy Inman)
Offering an entirely different perspective of Union Station Kansas City is this night shot. The structure’s 850,000 square feet glows from both the old and new lighting within. Its two lit awning entrances and illuminated arched windows become glamorous focal points at night. (Mike Mehin/Shutterstock)
Offering an entirely different perspective of Union Station Kansas City is this night shot. The structure’s 850,000 square feet glows from both the old and new lighting within. Its two lit awning entrances and illuminated arched windows become glamorous focal points at night. (Mike Mehin/Shutterstock)
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A 30-plus-year writer-journalist, Deena C. Bouknight works from her Western North Carolina mountain cottage and has contributed articles on food culture, travel, people, and more to local, regional, national, and international publications. She has written three novels, including the only historical fiction about the East Coast’s worst earthquake. Her website is DeenaBouknightWriting.com
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