The author toured Kansas City's Union Station while changing trains and liked what she saw.
Kansas City's Union Station, a grand beaux arts terminal, was designed by architect Jarvis Hunt and built in 1914. It comprises some 850,000 square feet and, at its prime, moved ten thousand rail passengers each day.
The station attained notoriety in 1933, when bandits opened fire on law enforcement officers, who were transporting Frank Nash, a convicted murderer. Four law enforcement officers and Nash were killed in what is described as a massacre. The incident gave J. Edgar Hoover the incentive he needed to build his small, fledgling agency into the world-renown Federal Bureau of Investigation. Bullet holes remain visible on front of the terminal building.
The building was closed in the 1980s and nearly fell victim to the wrecking ball before it was saved by the states of Kansas and Missouri and restored between 1997 and 1999. Today, the building houses The Kansas City Museums of History and Science, including a planetarium; four restaurants; a movie theater; and a production theater. In addition, the city’s busses operate from the station, as does Amtrak.
The restaurants include the Harvey House Diner, which is located in the space occupied by the restaurant established by Fred Harvey in the early part of the century. From Atchison, Kansas, Harvey persuaded the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad in the 1880s to allow him to open a restaurant at the AT&SF station in Topeka, Kansas. It was such a success that the railroad allowed Harvey to open restaurants and hotels all along the railroad’s line from San Bernardino, California, to Chicago, Illinois, along what is today the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.
In those early days of railroading, trains had no sleepers or dining cars. The Harvey Houses, as the hotels came to be known, provided a much needed service and helped pave the way for westward settlement in the United States. Of the original eighty-three Harvey Houses, only eight remain and either have been restored or are in the process of being restored. Perhaps, the two most famous of these are La Posada in Winslow, Arizona, and El Tovar at the Grand Canyon. Others, while restored, serve as museums and offices, but not as hotels. Many were designed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, who sought to reflect the area’s history in each hotel. In the southwestern United States, the style usually was Spanish in its many influences, from hacienda (La Posada) to Moorish (Casa del Desierto).
In addition, Union Station boasts a railroading museum that depicts the history of railroading and includes several N-gauge model trains. Outside, an Electromotive Division E-8 locomotive is on display wearing the colors and livery of the Kansas City Southern Railway, as are a dining car and observation car from the Streamliner era of passenger railroading. At present, the cars have been removed from display to facilitate an expansion project at the station; however, they should be available for viewing later this year.
For more information about Union Station and the museums and to see pictures, check out http://www.unionstation.org/kcmuseum.cfm.