LOS ANGELES >> Amy Strand ran her hand over a hinged, wrought-iron door to an electrical panel in the shuttered ticket concourse area of Union Station.
“Nobody does ironwork like that anymore,” said Strand, 60, a Marina del Rey resident and the granddaughter of John Mills Lawler, president of Herzog Iron Works of St. Paul, Minn. In 1938, Lawler's firm designed and forged the ornamental metal work that added to the iconic Spanish Colonial Revival and Art Deco building's landmark status.
Strand wants to have a plaque erected to her grandfather and other artisans involved in the building's accoutrements, a tangible link to the past as well as a nod to future train users, themes trumpeted Saturday during the 75th anniversary celebration of Union Station.
“It connects all of us with those golden days of Los Angeles history and that bright future of transit in L.A. in the 21st century,” Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian said during the rededication ceremony.
Built in 1939 for $11 million, the “union” station brought together three disparate railroads: Union Pacific, Southern Pacific and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.
But resistance from the three meant it took almost 30 years and two trips to the U.S. Supreme Court to convince them to build the station. Eventually, the concept took the shape of the white-walled and red-roofed giant adobe building it is today, said Stephen Gee, author of “Iconic Vision: John Parkinson, Architect of Los Angeles.”
Gee, who attended the festivities Saturday, said one attorney raised his son to take over the fight after his death. Eventually, the vision of the City of Angels and the father-son architect team, John and Donald Parkinson, became a reality.
Compromises had to be forged, sometimes eliciting more hot air than Lawler's iron works. For instance, the cost of the ticket windows was split three ways. “They had to flip a coin to see whose window would be closer to the doorway,” Gee said.
Today, the towering building overlooking Olvera Street is shared by three transit agencies: the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), Metrolink and Amtrak. And they don't always work together, said Metro CEO Art Leahy.
The station's high ceilings, spacious waiting room filled with leather chairs and airy outdoor patios are part of the legacy of John Parkinson, who also built the L.A. City Hall tower, the Memorial Coliseum and Bullocks Wilshire. The project was taken over by his son, Donald, after John's death in 1935.
“My dad would always take us here and tell us how much (John) loved the city of Los Angeles,” said Thea Zuliani, great-granddaughter of John Parkinson. “L.A. is not a little baby anymore. We have our own history,” she said.
Today, the station envisioned by the Parkinsons fills up daily with a mix of well-dressed professionals catching Metro's Red Line and Gold Line trains, as well as tourists from every part of the world boarding Amtrak.
A face-lift has included polishing the brass fittings on the windows and dusting off the 3,000-pound orbital chandeliers that hang from the faux wood ceilings made of steel, officials said.
The city is also enforcing rules against loitering inside the station in order to remove the homeless.
“Regardless of their ethnicity or socioeconomic status, this is the hub,” said state Sen. Kevin DeLeon of Los Angeles.
Thousands of people jammed the building and grounds Saturday to hear mariachi bands, swing bands and rock 'n' roll groups perform on various stages. Many waited in one- to three-hour lines to see a historic rail car on Platform 13.
“There is some sort of attraction I have to this building,” said Cheryl Wysocki of Pasadena. She took her first train ride at age 5 from Union Station. She and her father traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“All I remember is my dad made a big bag of fried chicken. We ate it on the train,” she said.
Amtrak carried 31.6 million passengers last year, a 50 percent increase in national ridership since 2000, said Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, Amtrak board member and former Los Angeles County supervisor. Of those, 1.6 million went through Union Station, she said.
Metrolink, the commuter rail that carries passengers from Lancaster/Palmdale, Santa Clarita, Orange County, Riverside and San Bernardino to Union Station, moves 7 million passengers a year through the station, said Larry McCallon, Metrolink board member and mayor pro-tem of Highland.
Metro, which bought the station in 2011, will funnel $175 million from Prop. 1A, the California High-Speed Rail bond, to increase capacity by 50 percent and another $115 million to build more light-rail to connect to the high-speed rail, said Brian Kelly, secretary of the California State Transportation Agency.
Gee called the building “a gem” and said Angelenos don't need to be on a journey to enter the halls of Union Station. “Just being inside is a unique experience even if you aren't going anywhere,” he said.
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