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Finding Aid of the Los Angeles Union Station Collection 0330
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Scope and Content
  • Historical Note
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Preferred Citation
  • Conditions Governing Use

  • Title: Los Angeles Union Station Collection
    Collection number: 0330
    Contributing Institution: USC Libraries Special Collections
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 22.0 Linear feet 22 boxes
    Date: 1913-1969 (bulk 1930s)
    Abstract: The Los Angeles Union Station Collection documents the planning and construction of the historic landmark, as well as the battles that preceded its actual construction. The collection consists of approximately 22 boxes of legal files, blueprints, maps, correspondence, and planning documents regarding one of Los Angeles's most recognizable architectural icons.

    Scope and Content

    The Los Angeles Union Station Collection contains detailed records of the planning and construction phases of the project, primarily between 1930 and 1940. Most of the records are composed of correspondence between railroad executives as well as a large number of blueprints and maps for the project. While the collection has been re-housed in new folders and boxes, the materials were generally left in their original order and reflect the original filing system used at the station. As a result, folder titles and sequence appear as they did in the original files.
    Beginning in the late 1920s, items in the collection document the railroad companies' legal battle to avoid construction of the station, disagreements amongst the railroads on the location and design of the terminal, as well as large number of blueprints and maps for station buildings, tracks, and surrounding areas. The most detailed records document each stage in the construction of the terminal building as well as a significant number of documents from the project's legal department. The construction files include a large number of blueprints of different sections of the terminal building as well as surrounding infrastructure (primarily street improvements and bridge construction). The construction portion of the collection also contains a substantial number of specifications for portions of the project given to subcontractors as well as information on subcontractors and vendors. The legal files in the collection include a significant collection of correspondence from the LAUPT legal department, almost 200 files on personal injury cases brought against the station, as well as a large collection of contracts signed between LAUPT and subcontractors, vendors, and lessees.
    Smaller portions of the collection include files from the project's architectural committee, records of personnel issues, agreements with the City of Los Angeles, documentation of the land acquisition and vacation process, information on the U.S. postal facility constructed in conjunction with LAUPT, and agreements with local light rail companies.

    Historical Note

    Long considered a Los Angeles architectural icon, the Los Angeles Union Station was the last of the"great" train stations built during the peak of rail travel in the United States. Financed and constructed by the Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, and Union Pacific railroads and completed in 1939, Union Station centralized passenger rail travel in Los Angeles and provided the primary gateway into the city before the rise of air and automobile travel. While the building is now a recognizable symbol of the city, the three major railroads involved in the project fought for decades to forestall its construction. Reluctant to finance a union station when they already owned and operated separate terminals in the downtown area, the railroads did not start the project until pressured by local business and political leaders and mandated by the California Railroad Commission. The railroads appealed the commission's directive for more than a decade but were finally forced to begin land acquisition and construction in the early 1930s.
    The railroads settled on the station's current location because Southern Pacific already owned a significant amount of land in the area. In acquiring additional property for the project, however, the railroads displaced Los Angeles's original Chinatown, forcing many Chinese American land owners and tenants to relocate to Chinatown's present location. The community's forced relocation disrupted the community and destroyed the historic center of Chinese American life in Los Angeles. The dislocation of the community was controversial even at the time of the station's construction.
    After acquiring property for the terminal, the railroads commissioned well-known Los Angeles architects John and Donald Parkinson to design a station building that reflected Los Angeles's rise to a city of international stature. The Parkinsons were distinguished for their work on a number of city landmarks, including City Hall, the Bullocks department store, and the Alexandria Hotel. The architects used a blend of Spanish Colonial Revival and Art Deco design elements to emphasize the city's status as a "modern city" as well as its "Spanish" heritage. In particular, the architects emphasized the city's "Spanish" heritage in the terminal's arcades, arches, mission tile roofs, and stucco walls.
    While the station was heavily used in its early years, it suffered a period of decline after World War II as airplanes and automobiles replaced trains as the primary mode of transportation in Los Angeles. The terminal was virtually unused when Catellus Development purchased and restored it in the 1990s. The City of Los Angeles also revived travel through the station in the 1990s by making it a regional transportation hub in the subway and commuter train systems. The building is currently included in the National Registry of Historic Places.

    Conditions Governing Access

    COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE. Advance notice required for access.

    Preferred Citation

    [Box/folder# or item name], Los Angeles Union Station Collection, Collection no. 0330, Regional History Collection, Special Collections, USC Libraries, University of Southern California

    Conditions Governing Use

    The collection contains published articles; researchers are reminded of the copyright restrictions imposed by publishers on reusing their articles and parts of books. It is the responsibility of researchers to acquire permission from publishers when reusing such materials. The copyright to unpublished materials belongs to the heirs of the writers. Permission to publish, quote, or reproduce must be secured from the repository and the copyright holder.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company. -- Archives
    Parkinson, Donald B. (Donald Berthold), 1895-1945 -- Archives
    Parkinson, John, 1861-1935 -- Archives
    Southern Pacific Railroad Company. -- Archives
    Union Passenger Terminal (Los Angeles, Calif.). -- Archives
    Architecture, Modern--20th century--Archival resources
    Los Angeles (Calif.)--Buildings, structures, etc.--Archival resources
    Railroad stations--California--Los Angeles--History--Archival resources