5 Hidden Secrets of Union Station

By ALIVE Staff
In Culture

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St. Louis Union Station has been a longstanding icon of Downtown St. Louis. First opened in 1894, it was once the largest passenger rail terminal in the world. In the 1980s, it was reimagined as a hotel and retail destination, and in 2012, Lodging Hospitality Management Inc. purchased the property and set about revitalizing it once again. The building is rife with architectural and design details, and harbors some interesting historical secrets.

1/ The Grand Hall
From its sweeping archways to the extensive fresco and gold leaf detailing, mosaics and art glass windows, the Grand Hall is the centerpiece of the station. It was restored to its original glory in 2014 and now features an award-winning 3-D mapping experience projected on its soaring ceiling.

2/ The Whispering Arch
Located at the main entrance to the station, the arch has an unusual acoustic feature that projects voices, the result of an architectural mistake. As the story goes, this was discovered during construction when a worker laying tile asked another beside him for a tool, and a worker on the other end of the hall turned around because he thought someone was right behind him. In fact, the station boasts an array of impressive arches throughout (though the others don’t play any interesting tricks!).

3/ “Commerce on the Landing”
This mural, painted by Chicago artist Louis Grell in the 1940s, once hung over the station’s ticket counter. It disappeared at some point in the ensuing years, only to be found behind a false wall near Grand Hall during renovations last year. It’s now proudly displayed by the front desk of the hotel.

4/ Atrium Illuminated Glass Block Floor
At one point, the station was divided into male and female sections, and the male side had a bathhouse. The hole that used to illuminate the baths is now filed with glass blocks, creating a stunning light source.

5/ The Harvey Girls
Union Station was once home to a location of Harvey House, an innovative restaurant concept tailored to train stations that was also one of the first eateries to promote women as servers. The restaurants, which some say was the first chain, even inspired a movie, “Harvey Girls,” starring Judy Garland. The Station Grille at the Union Station Hotel now occupies that historic space. 

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