History of The Grand Hall at Historic Union Station
America's First Union Station
A Brief History
In 1853, four railroad companies that had before served passengers with individual terminals opened the first union station ever built. The Indianapolis Union Station had five tracks running through a brick and frame building that offered passengers the convenience of a central transportation facility. Union Station's majestic red brick and granite head house, recognized as one of the finest Romanesque Revival-styled structures in America, replaced that original building in 1888. Built at a cost of one million dollars, its Grand Hall is one of the finest public spaces in the city.
At the turn of the century, when railroading was king, some 500,000 passengers traveled through Union Station monthly. There were so many trains almost 200 streamed through daily that downtown streets were always clogged with traffic. To overcome that problem, as well as the inconvenience to passengers who crossed any number of 12 tracks to board, the Union Railway Company planned a system of elevated tracks in a new two-story train shed.
Construction of the Art-Deco-styled shed and Crowne Plaza Union Station began in 1913. In 1918, the first train arrived at Union Station on the newly elevated tracks. Passengers waited for trains in the concourse area, appointed with colorful terra-cotta tile, and used six stairwells to reach the track level above. The shed's roof was added in 1932; its construction delayed by World War I.
The advent of the automobile marked the end of six decades that saw Union Station develop from a small wood and brick framed building with five tracks into one of the busiest passenger transfer points in America. Thomas Edison had worked there in 1861 as a telegraph operator; he was fired for continually devoting time to useless experiments. Abraham Lincoln traveled through Union Station in 1861 after being elected President.
Railroad service at Union Station dwindled steadily until 1970, when the structure had become a darkened ghost of its prosperous past. It was threatened with demolition after Amtrak facilities were moved into the concourse area, but a local architect formed the Committee to Save Union Station and helped promote an adaptive-use project. In 1982 plans for a festival marketplace attraction were approved by the City and the restoration began. Union Station again is a focus of downtown activity, just as it was when railroading was king.
When the restoration of Union Station began in 1983, the old train shed became the home of the new Crowne Plaza at Union Station. In keeping with this theme, the hotel renovated thirteen 1920's Pullman cars and converted them into hotel suites. The cars contain two rooms, each with either a king-sized bed or two double beds. For a tour through one of these cars, see the Concierge.