Thursday, January 20, 2011

Under Wire in the Emerald City


In 1911 a new station opened in Seattle - not so far away from the current King Street Station.  Actually, it was just across the street.  The main concourse was truly grand and reflected the importance of the railroads at the time.  Union Station (as it came to be known after some initial confusion) is today one of the fine examples of historical preservation.  The original tenants, the Union Pacific and Milwaukee Road, are long vacated but the building stands ornate and proud as it did 100 years ago when passenger trains were called "Varnish" and heavy-weight Pullmans were the preferred mode of luxury travel.

Today, Union Station is the hub for Sound Transit and travelers can descend below ground to catch the bus or light-rail from this historic building just as  travelers from times past.  The difference in decades is unmistakable, however.  Today's long distance travelers board the light rail bound for the SEA-TAC International Airport, not the Armour Yellow of departing Union Pacific or Milwaukee Road passenger trains.  Inside on the main level, painted names above open doors still advertise the Women's Waiting Room or Men's Toilet and Barber Shop but these amenities are long vanished from the old station.  The era of the highly polished and well-dressed traveler are seemingly over.  Travel has changed and become more accessible to all, while at the same time, entering into an era of TSA body scanners.

It is interesting to consider Union Station and its undergrounds.  In days past, travelers entered on street level, but departed on Olympians from sub-ground platforms.  The Vintage Seattle Blog has a very nice post card of a departing Olympian on the sub-level.  The close relation of the two Seattle depots is obvious.


Look carefully in the post card:  the overhead catenary is visible above the waiting Olympian Hiawatha.  This electrified Olympian must have been one of America's truly unique travel experiences.  Certainly the lands it traversed seem unequaled, and the line it traversed was one of a kind.

The Milwaukee Road's final runs from Union Station were in 1961 and by that time the Bi-Polars were replaced with E-units from General Motors.  For the next 10 years, the Union Pacific would utilize the station until the coming of Amtrak when all passenger trains into the Seattle downtown were relocated across the street.  A massive refurbishing and rebuilding of Union Station was completed in 1999, formally saving the Great Hall for the future in the glory of the past.  Beneath the surface, another nod to the past exists:  the electrified light rail, where passengers can still depart the Emerald City under wire. 

5 comments:

Oil-Electric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Oil-Electric said...

Great reminder of a more gentile time, Leland? I am not too sure! A story on the MRHA site tells of seeing one of the old original Union Station high-back bench seats containing a pattern of bullet holes! “It's a spray of a half-dozen or more clearly .38 or .45 caliber shots arranged in an arc from lower left to upper right and some of the rounds penetrated or even went through the bench to lodge in the wainscoting. A couple of the shots only nicked the wood of the bench because something - a body, perhaps? - slowed their course.”

Apparently, an open mystery someone can shed some light on?

Both Union Station and King Street Station brought class to a young Seattle.

Both structures designed to promote an image of strength and prosperity, not only to the respective railroads, but also of the Pacific Northwest.

While both edifices offer plenty of eye candy, I admire the giant “open” hall of Union Station. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Seattle_-_Union_Station_interior_pano_01.jpg

Perhaps one of your stalwart Road Readers can explain how the Hiawatha made stops in Seattle and Tacoma, ending up with the tail being on the end of the train returning east!

oamundsen said...

Leland, thanks for another great post. In all my visits to King Street Station in Seattle, I never took the time to visit Union Station: I will do so next trip! Thanks.

LinesWest said...

Thanks for the feedback and comments folks.

O-E said:
"Great reminder of a more gentile time, Leland? "

Well, I suppose I've been known to over romanticize things every once in awhile here on this blog...

As for the tail being on the east end of the train, running east...well, passengers were treated to some backwards running from Seattle to Tacoma. It was an interesting feature of the passenger train movements to be sure. Perhaps someone out there can add a bit to the story?

Oil-Electric said...

Heads or tails? Yup, Leland, I have posted on my blog a shot of the Hiawatha running being pulled backward from Seattle to Tacoma along Empire Way (Boeing Field). So When they are in Tacoma, the tail is ready to go east. But how did they pickup Seattle revenue? Or did they get on after the eastbound passengers got off in Seattle?