Monday, April 28, 2014

Ogden's Union Station celebrated 90 years in 2014

Ogden’s present day Union Station, a museum since 1978, is actually the third version train depot in town and was actually dedicated on Nov. 22, 1924.  The station’s two predecessors set the stage for today’s structure.
Why should this anniversary be important to Ogden area residents?
Ogden wouldn't be Ogden without Union Station,”  Charles Trentelman, a member of the Union Station Foundation Board of Directors and also as a volunteer archivist at the station, said.
“The railroads changed Ogden from a sleepy agricultural backwater to a bustling transportation and manufacturing hub, and the railroads funneled everything they did through this station,” he noted.
“Agriculture, business, manufacturing and tourism all flowed through Union Station and it was critical to the locals that the station reflect the aspirations of the community for growth and development.”

Trentelman marvels at Union Station today.
“My own most common thought about Union Station is just sheer amazement that it is still here and still in such good condition 90 years later,” he said. “This station jumped out of the ground in 18 months between 1923 and 1924 and, 90 years later, is still standing, much of it original, still in very good shape and still serving a very valuable role in the community.”

The first train station in Ogden was a small, two-story building on the banks of the Weber River, which opened in 1869. As Ogden beat out Corrine to become “Junction City,” that facility quickly became inadequate, let alone the swampy ground surrounding it.
So, the Union and Central Pacific combined forces in 1889 to build a much larger Union Station, of brick, with a center clock tower, at today’s Station site of 25th and Wall Avenue.
This grand station was dedicated on Dec. 31 that year and featured a city-wide holiday and attracted some 6,000 people. This second train station included 33 hotel rooms, a restaurant and even a barbershop. This station worked well for over three decades. In 1920, some $11,000 was spent repapering, painting and roofing the building. An underground walkway to separate tracks to the west was also built.

However, on Feb. 13, 1923, one of those hotel rooms caught fire and quickly spread to the rest of the station. No one was killed, or injured, but everything was gutted, with only fragile walls and a clock left standing.
Just three days later, a temporary waiting room had been constructed near the unusable station. The ticket offices moved to the nearby Healy Hotel building.
Yet, Ogden was not originally going to get a new train station after the fire.
“Old Station to be patched up in Ogden. Hopes of getting a new building dashed by Railroads” was a Feb. 14, 1923 headline in the Ogden Standard-Examiner.

Since the station’s walls had not been leveled, the Ogden Union Railway & Depot Company, which owned the building, thought they could just restore what was there before – clock tower and all.
Soon after, a stone fell off the clock tower and instantly killed a railroad clerk. This accident – as well as pleading by city officials for a new building -- prompted railroad officials to raze the shell of the old Romanesque style building and start over with a new design in Spanish Colonial Revival style.
Bids were delayed on a new building, as officials desired a double size waiting room and a larger baggage room too.

John and Donald Parkinson, principals of a Los Angeles architectural firm, designed the new depot.
Bids finally went out in the late fall of 1923 and construction began on the $450,000 structure ($6.2 million in 2014 dollars).
By April 8, 1924, the last old wall came down, revealing an intact copper cornerstone box, full of mementos from the 1880s and earlier.
Construction went into high speed in the summer of 1924 and “New station going up fast” was the July 22 headline in the Standard that year. The Grand Lobby’s soaring cathedral ceiling is one of many structure highlights.

Some trees were also removed from the frontage along Wall Avenue, to make room for more automobile parking.
According to Don Strack of, by March of 1927, the underground walkway tunnel was expanded, because of increasing passenger demand.
In 1928, 5,600 feet of sheds were built outside, next to the rails, to protect waiting passengers from the elements. (These were all removed in 1969).
For nearly 40 more years, Ogden’s third train station was a bustling, focal point of northern Utah. But by the 1960s, increasing use of the automobile, Interstate freeways and air travel had dwindled passenger service by rail nation-wide and Ogden was no exception.
It required 10 years of work for the city to obtain the historic station. Former Standard-Examiner editor Murray Moler said this was done:” To restore the pride of Ogdenites in living in ‘Junction City,’ the hub of the West's vital transportation routes since the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869.”
Moler was certain the wrecker’s ball would target the historic Union Station, if it were not saved as a public structure.
By 1969, Moler and many in Ogden incorrectly believed they had the railroad’s support in giving Ogden the building. Much more work and lobbying was required for that to happen.

 Elizabeth (Teddy) Griffith, of the Junior League of Ogden, did a history of Union Station that listed the structure on the National Register of Historic Buildings.(She would later direct all the renovations.)

Next, Donna Adams, Ogden City Recorder, also found a copy of a Brigham Young-signed document, giving the railroads the land for Union Station-- with the stipulation  that it always be a depot.

In 1973, Ogden City created  the Union Station Development Corporation to manage the future property.

“Ogden officials, including the local newspaper, worked hard again between 1969 and 1978 to preserve the station, both as a representation of the city's cultural heritage and as a key builder of the future,” Trentelman said. “The station serves as a community gathering place, major tourist attraction, storage vault of historical artifacts and stories, and as a commercial and cultural focal point for the entire city.” 

The Junior League gave $15,000 to seed the project. The Ogden City Council  and Mayor A. Stephen Dirks chipped in $50,000. Another $150,000 was received in Bicentennial money. The State of Utah provided $600,000 more, a federal grant provided another $650,000 – and there were more funding sources too.
The now leaking roof was replaced and a design retrofit for a museum and convention center was underway in 1977 with architects Ronald Hales and Steven Ballard.
A pair of historic murals were created for the main lobby.

There were three major contractors -- John Wadman's Ben Lomond Construction Company, Burton Construction Company and Cornwall Construction Company.

The remodeling was finished by mid-1978. Special team locomotives were furnished by Union Pacific for the dedication.
Another key highlight came along in 1988 when Union Station was designated as the official Utah State Railroad Museum.
The last true passenger trains to actually utilize Union Station were from Amtrak in May of 1997, ending Amtrak’s solo use of the station since 1971.
Trentelman said that Union Station's role during World War II is the one story he hears the most often when folks are looking for something amazing to say about the station. Many of thousands of soldiers a day who traveled through Union Station to wars in Europe and the Pacific remember the station years later, although their time spent on 25th Street might have something to do with that.

For example, he explains:
“On a back wall -- we can show you this, it was uncovered a couple of years ago when we took down old sheetrock -- one of those soldiers scratched the date of the end of World War II in the Pacific -- a memorable date for that soldier because it meant he wouldn't be shipping out to invade Japan and, probably, get killed. Ward Armstrong, who volunteers on Thursdays in our Browning gun museum, was a kid working at the family sporting goods store on 25th Street that day and remembers the conga line all up and down the street.”
Today, the historic Union Station is also much more than a railroad depot. It has also been home for the John M. Browning Firearms Museum for 35 years and to the Browning-Kimball Classic Car Museum for more than three decades. The Utah Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum opened at Union Station in June of 2013.
The Myra Powell Gallery is also home to the Union Station’s permanent collection of art.
Wedding ceremonies and receptions of up to 500 guests can rent out Union Station. Onsite catering is also available from Union Grill.
“The museums at the station reflect wide aspects of Weber County's history -- railroad, cowboy and Browning Arms,” Trentelman stated. “The Browning-Kimball car museum hints at the leading families that led the commercial development of the area. “
 He also said Ogden's Historic 25th Street's renovation has used Union Station as a catalyst, and will continue to do so. Union Station is used in advertising by most of the businesses along 25th Street. The museums bring people from all over the world.
The visit of a C-Span news team to Ogden in April centered around Union Station. 

(-Written by Lynn Arave and originally published in the Ogden Standard-Examiner, April 27, 2014.)

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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