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A Wichita Icon for 110 Years & Counting

In the 1800s, the ability for trains to come into a city meant increased growth, industry and prosperity. However, at first, there was no rule on how long switch engines could block traffic on the streets.

In 1909, Mayor Charles L. Davidson made a powerful promise to elevate the tracks across Douglas so that the traffic could pass safely under them, as well as to add a union terminal building to replace the various nondescript buildings scattered about town.

In 1910, four railroads agreed to elevate their tracks from Kellogg past Second Street and construct an impressive union station at the expense of the city. In May of 1911, a preliminary drawing of a new station by Kansas City architect Louis Curtiss appeared in the newspaper. The station was designed in the Beaux Arts style.

In July 1912, contracts were solidified for the project, which resulted in a final cost of $2.5 million for the entire improvement project, including a depot and tracks.

Ground dimensions for the station footings were 260 by 125 feet. Some materials, like the grey Bedford stone and the grey terra cotta were standard at the time; however, the extensive use of concrete and the provision for walls made largely of metal-framed glass to allow for a lot of daylight, was unusual.

The true purpose was to create a “daylight” station where prairie sunlight could provide light for reading in any corner of the station on a bright day and could illuminate to advantage the station’s many interior vistas and decorative elements.

In all, the project took 18 months of construction to complete, and opening day was March 7, 1914. The passenger tracks could accommodate 20 trains an hour, although at the time the four Union Terminal railroads only ran 30 trains a day.

Union Station is listed on the Wichita, Kansas National Register of Historic Places.

Take a Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the Building Today

Drew Meek, local architect, train buff and board member for the Great Plains Transportation Museum, takes us on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Union Station Grand Terminal building. This is Part 1 in a series, so check back again for additional video tours.

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1912

Blueprint of Union Station. Louis Curtiss, Architect. The groundbreaking of Union Station was July 29, 1912.

1914

This article ran in the local newspaper, the Wichita Daily Beacon, on March 6, 1914.

Opening Day - 1914

March 7, 1914, was the dedication of Union Station.

Louis Curtis’ architecture, sometimes categorized as “vague prairie style” because of an occasional tendency toward long, low massing in the manner of Frank Lloyd Wright, could better be described as wildly eclectic. The local press described the station once as “Mission” and another time as “Renaissance” — very two contrasting styles. Actually, there was some prairie style in the back, some Beaux Arts revival in the front, a good deal of experiment with concrete casting and decorating techniques, and art nouveau decorative elements that were all the rage at the time.

Visitors to Union Station approached the columned north front, set back 80 feet from Douglas Avenue, via a circular driveway that permitted autos and carriages to drop their passengers under a weather-proof facade.

Circa 1914

Railway view of Union Station soon after the station opened.

Circa 1914

The Harvey House dining room at Union Station was considered state-of-the-art dining at the time and featured a semicircular, marble lunch counter and marble-topped tables. It closed in 1937.

The Fred Harvey Company, owner of the Harvey House chain of restaurants, was founded in 1876 by Fred Harvey to cater to the growing number of train passengers at rail stations across the Western United States.

Circa 1914

Opposite the main waiting room of the terminal was the concourse which leads to the train platforms. Within the concourse was a news and fruit stand, and the soda fountain, all constructed of marble or white terra cotta tile.

Circa 1914

Soda fountain, which stood in the concourse, allowed passengers to enjoy a drink or treat while waiting for their train.

1914

Color drawing of the Dining Room made for a booklet produced by Fred Harvey and given as a favor at the opening banquet.

About 100 people could be served at a sitting in the Harvey House dining room.

At this time, Wichita was one of the most important commercial centers of the Southwest. Its wholesale interests and packing and livestock industries grew steadily.

1914

Color drawing of the Ticket Counter made for a booklet produced by Fred Harvey and given as a favor at the opening banquet.

The first train ticket at Union Station was sold to F.W. (Woody) Hockaday, a local car and tire dealer and mapmaker, on March 8, 1914. 

The main concourse of Wichita’s new Union Terminal Station is 100 feet long and 55 feet wide. The floors are of marble, the walls of glazed terra cotta, and it is aglow with natural light. The station building, constructed of concrete, limestone, and terra cotta, is fireproof and cost, including approaches, approximately $2.5 million.

1914

Adjoining the Main Waiting room of the terminal was the Ladies’ Retiring Room. Here were provided all the comforts and conveniences required by women and children on a journey. A ladies’ maid was at the service of the traveler, and there were wash and toilet rooms, easy chairs, and couches. It was decorated in cheerful tones and was a good example of the consideration that had come to be expected by the traveling public in those days.

Circa 1914

The main Waiting Room of Wichita’s new Union Terminal Station was 165′ long, 125′ wide and 25′ high, and open to sunlight on three sides, making it unusually cheerful and attractive. The floors were made of marble; glazed terra cotta was used on the walls. Inclined planes lead to the elevated tracks over which all passenger trains run.

Wichita was among the most important railroad centers in the Southwest, and had large livestock packing and jobbing interests, while some of its manufactured products were sent to all the civilized world.

1917

1914 – 1918 Union Station was a place for troops to pass through, for friends and family to bid goodbyes and hearty hellos.

1919

President Woodrow Wilson had a planned visit to Wichita on Sept. 26, 1919. More than 100,000 Kansans gathered downtown to hear the President speak. But during the night, between Pueblo, CO, and Wichita, Wilson suffered a partial stroke and no one from Wichita saw him.

1936

President Franklin Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor arrived at Union Station as part of Roosevelt’s campaign tour. In the background is the Jett & Wood Mercantile Company.

Photo: Wichita Public Library Photograph Collection.

Circa 1939

Union Station and train sheds in Wichita, about 1939.

Photo: John W. Barriger III; John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library, UMSL.

1943

During World War II, members of the Soroptimist Club and other organizations sponsored a canteen at the railroad station. Members served food and drinks for servicemen/women as they left for the war.

1948

Alco PA locomotive with the “Ranger” from Galveston–Chicago at Wichita Union Station, March 1948.

Photo: Ross Grenard.

1957

Union Station was still a hub of activity during the 1950’s and 60’s. This image was taken April 27, 1957.

Photo by H. Kellam. Great Plains Transportation Museum collection.

1961

Photo taken on September 15, 1961. “The Rock Island Line” (Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad) CRIP 411 train #28 arrived at Union Station. Platform employees were at the ready and got right to work loading luggage, mail, and express.

Photo: William Art Gibson Jr. Collection. Lee Clerico photo.

1963

A young couple waits for their train in the concourse at Union Station.

Photo: The Wichita Eagle, file photo.

1966

Rock Island Train RDC-3 9016 is shown here with passengers dressed in their Sunday best, loading up for the train’s return trip to Kansas City. The train arrived in Wichita at 2 p.m. and departed at 3 p.m.

Photo: James T. Wilson collection.

1967

ATSF Baldwin VO1000 Locomotive, June 1967.

Photo: Jim Parker.

1967

A glimpse inside the Union Station concourse in 1967.

Photo: Wichita Eagle, File Photo.

1970

This photo was captured in July of 1970 and shows the ticket window area, which was remodeled in the 1960s.

Photo: Matt Coldwell collection.

1970

In the baggage room, Mr. Reedy checks his manifest of checked bags going out on the San Francisco Chief that July 1970 evening.

Photo: Matt Coldwell collection.

1975

Amtrak train 500 SDP40-F, with Ex-NYC “Wingate Brook” lounge/observation car at the rear, came in for a station stop on this May evening in 1975.

In 1975, the Wichita Urban Renewal Agency purchased the Union Station Grand Terminal and adjoining Rock Island Depot buildings. 

1979

Ticket Counter inside Union Station, circa 1979.

Photo: Wichita Eagle, File Photo.

1979

By the 1960s, when the popularity of air traffic had increased, Wichita’s passenger service began to wane. The last passenger train, Train No. 16 of the “Lone Star” Amtrak, departed Wichita on Oct. 6, 1979.

Photo: Source: timetables.org; (c)1979 National Railroad Passenger Corporation.

1982 - 2007

Multimedia Cablevision purchases Union Station in December of 1982. Cox Communications used the station as its local headquarters until 2007.

1999

BNSF railway donated Santa Fe locomotive No. 93 to the Great Plains Train Museum. On June 7, 1999, the local yard crew delivered it.

Photo: Fred Tefft.

2008 - 2013

Union Station goes on the market for sale. Cox Communications was committed to getting the century-old campus into the hands of a developer who would integrate it into the revival of the Douglas Avenue corridor.

2013

On February 1, 2013, Occidental Management purchased Union Station, which included the Grand Terminal building, the former Rock Island Depot building to its east (shown left), and the former Grand Hotel east of that (shown below).

Occidental planned to transform the building into a multimillion-dollar destination attraction, including retail, restaurants, and office space – a key business generator for Project Downtown, the city’s master plan for revitalization. To have the iconic structure back as viable to the community was a tremendous boost to the city’s efforts to create a strong Douglas Street corridor that would lead to even more important future important projects.

2013

The former Grand Hotel, which is east of Union Station.

“When you have companies looking at us (Wichita) from the outside, one of the factors they’re going to consider is how vibrant downtown is,” said Chad Stafford, President of Occidental Management. “We’ve seen things happen downtown, vibrant things, and momentum has been created downtown.”

2013

Occidental Management gave the Grand Terminal, Grand Depot, and Grand Hotel buildings the much-needed and much-deserved TLC. Three phases of renovations/restoration culminated in the rebirth of multiple buildings that now serve Downtown Wichita and our community.

2013

Phase 1 of the redevelopment included renovation the Santa Fe Rock Island Depot and Freight Building, the SF Grand and Patrick Hotel Building, as well as the North plaza area of Union Station.

Photo: SPT Architecture.

2013

Phase 2 of Occidental Management’s redevelopment included renovation of the iconic 75,000-square-foot Union Station Terminal building as well as new construction for the terminal building expansion.

2015

Union Station logo is unveiled by Occidental Management.

2016

To further beautify the Union Station plaza area as well as visually connect it with the Grand Depot and Grand Hotel buildings, Occidental Management updated the plaza grounds with a beautiful brick and cement pattern. This redeveloped plaza and the addition of public walkways improved public access to the area.

2016

Photo taken from the third floor of Union Station.

Photo: Great Plains Transportation Museum.

2017

Design materials used in the revitalization of Union Station were selected for consistency with other buildings in Project Downtown and Old Town while celebrating the historic architecture of the buildings.

© Randy Tobias Photography. All rights reserved.

2017

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Chisholm Trail, Chisholm Trail street signs were placed on every block of Douglas Avenue, from Walnut in Delano to Mead at Union Station.

2022

Occidental Management hosts 1st Annual Merry & Bright Union Station Lighting Event & Toy Drive. This free public event is a great way to bring the community together and kick off the holiday season. Union Station into a dazzling holiday light display and there are family-friend activities, music and more. The public is simply asked to bring a new, unwrapped toy to donate to the toy drive benefitting the Wichita Children’s Home.

2023

In partnership with KWCH Channel 12, the Union Station Skycam was installed on September 18, 2023, giving a bird’s eye view of Downtown Wichita during the station’s weather broadcasts.

Today & Beyond

The Union Station Grand Terminal still stands tall as a Wichita icon today, and the plaza area is alive with commerce, arts, and activities.

75,000

Size of the Grand Terminal Building in SF

20

Union Station was Built to Accommodate 20 Trains an Hour

1,000,000

Number of Train Tickets Sold in 1920