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The third-largest railroad station in the nation when it was completed in 1914, Kansas City's Union Station has been restored to its former grandeur and offers a variety of educational and cultural offerings, including Science City, Body Worlds & the Circle of Life, and several theaters, restaurants, and museum exhibits. Union Station dates back to the Flood of 1903, which destroyed Kansas City's Union Depot. Local railroad executives responded to the flood and destruction by building this new station on higher ground and a more central location. Construction began in 1911 and Union Station opened to the public on October 30th, 1914. At the time, it was the third largest train station in the country.

  • Kansas City Union Station
  • Interior of the Union Station
  • Construction of the Union Station
  • Typical crowd in the 1940s
  • Moments after the massacre at Union Station (1933)
  • Union Station: Reflections After 100 Years
  • Union Station Kansas City

History of the Union Station

At the time of its opening, the Union Station served as the region’s largest transportation hub as well as a primary gateway to the West. During the WWI era, railway traffic peaked in 1917 with 79,368 trains passing through in that year alone; a single day once saw 271 trains.1 The following decade continued to see a substantial amount of train and passenger traffic. The Union Station then gained national attention on June 17th, 1933, one of the most infamous dates in Kansas City history. On this day, mobsters attacked law enforcement agents (including FBI) who were transporting convicted mobster Frank Nash. Four officers were killed, including Nash, and this event eventually led the U.S. Congress to strengthen the power of the FBI.2 

In 1945, the Union Station experienced its peak passenger traffic with a record of 678,363 travelers in a year; many were American soldiers on their way home from WWII.1 With the growth of airline traffic, the passenger traffic at Union Station begins diminishing between 1950 and 1970. The station is placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, but by 1973, there are only six trains passing through the station daily. In 1983, the station closes. Fortunately, the Union Station continued to make history in its later years, as in 1996, a bi-state tax is passed to restore and redevelop Union Station (the passage of this bi-state tax is thought to be the first of its kind in U.S. history).3 By 1999, the Union Station re-opens to the public with a variety of shops, museums, theaters, and more, and in 2002, Amtrak service returns to the station. 

Union Station Architecture

In addition to the history and the internationally renowned educational and theater offerings at Union Station, the building is also known as a prime example of Beaux-Arts architecture coming from the City Beautiful movement. In fact, the architect chosen for the Union Station’s original design was Jarvis Hunt, one of the leaders of the City Beautiful movement in Chicago. The station featured 850,000 sq-ft of space with about 900 rooms, and the Grand Hall included a 95-foot ceiling, 3,500-pound chandeliers, and a six-foot wide clock in the central arch.4

1.) Holland, Kevin J. "Classic American Railroad Terminals." Osceola: MBI Publishing, 2001.

2.) Unger, Robert. "The Union Station Massacre: The Original Sin of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI." Kansas City: Andrews Mcmeel Publishing Co., 1997

3.) "In a great example of collaboration, bistate tax created Union Station gem." Kansas City Star, 12 March 2015.$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0...

4.) Mincer, Jilian. "Restoring Historic Union Station in Kansas City." New York Times, 8 February 1998.