If you’ve ever been to Grand Central Terminal in NYC or Union Station in Washington DC, you’ll see that they’re not just homogeneous train stations but a dynamic destination filled with a wide range of shops and restaurants that attract both locals and tourists. (Have you experienced the beautiful Apple flagship store inside Grand Central Terminal before?) In fact, both stations are considered top tourist destinations in their respective cities. Over here in LA, it’s good to see that we’re finally starting to add businesses into our beautiful Union Station, which has been improving and becoming better and better almost every year.
If you haven’t been to Union Station lately, you’re totally missing out! The grandest rail station on the west coast just got so much grander. The 76 year old Spanish Revival/Art Deco masterpiece recently underwent a much needed extensive restoration and upgrade as part of Union Station’s short and long-term master plan (that you can read all about on Metro’s official blog The Source). The short-term changes are pretty much completed now, which included not only restoring the station’s amazing architectural features — like the dozen magnificent 3000-pound bronze chandeliers that hang in the main waiting room and grand ticket concourse — but also upgrades like new beautiful signage and wayfinding signs, digital information screens that dramatically improve the transit users’ experience, and even bringing back an old fashioned shoe shine stand. And for Amtrak lovers, a new metropolitan lounge was introduced in late 2013 you have to check out.
Over the last two months since we found out that some very exciting upgrades were coming to Union Station in Downtown LA, work has been humming along with construction upgrades to the station including: the addition of new wayfinding signage; major touch-up work like fresh paint on walls and floors getting a beautiful shiny glossy polish; and other restoration work that’s really producing some very exciting and dramatic results. Part of the wayfinding signage program being implemented even includes a new towering interactive kiosk in the east portal section of the station and new large digital schedule screens for Amtrak and Metrolink.
Last week, I got an awesome tour of Union Station from Metro’s Deputy Executive Officer of Countywide Planning, Jenna Hornstock. I learned about some very exciting changes coming to the busiest rail station west of the Mississippi. Basically, you have two different timelines for planned improvement projects: short term and long term changes. Both are very exciting because it means Union Station is going to get better and better and play a much more prominent and vital role in our region’s growing mass transit network.
I just got back to LA after spending a week in New York. Every time I visit America’s largest urban center, I am inspired by the incredible urbanism that defines the city. The infrastructure and built environment, mix of architecture, diversity of businesses, and strong pedestrian culture never ceases to amaze me. For us in LA, as we continue to press for change — improving our own urbanism in a city still dominated by a suburban, car-oriented mentality — it would behoove us to look at successful models and examples from other cities that could be applied to Downtown LA. One of those prime examples is Grand Central Terminal in Midtown at 42nd Street, which has experienced an amazing turnaround from irrelevancy and near demolition in the 1960s to one of the greatest rail stations in the world today.