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What is Union Station in Kansas City? History and use of the city’s tourist destination

Kansas City Union Station was the backdrop for the Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory rally that turned tragic on Wednesday. The building has a long and storied history.

Union Station in Kansas City storied history

The historic building that serves as the Kansas City central train station was the scene of tragedy as the rally for the Chiefs’ Super Bowl celebration wrapped up. It is not the first time that a violent shooting has occurred at the 110-year-old Beaux-Arts building.

The Kansas City Massacre in 1933 brought about law enforcement change and commentators are wondering if this latest violent event might help to bring change of its own.

What is Union Station in Kansas City? History and use of the city’s tourist destination

Union Station was opened to the public on 30 October 1914 after four years of construction. It replaced the old Union Depot that had been located in Kansas City’s West Bottoms district. The decision to relocate rail hub for the city came after a major flood in 1903 consumed the former as well as the lack of room to expand at the old location.

Chicago architect Jarvis Hunt was selected to design the new station and the beaux-arts style was chosen for the massive building. This architectural style drew upon the principles of French neoclassicism, as well as incorporating Renaissance and Baroque elements, was popular in France and the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The ceiling in Union Station’s Grand Hall is 95 feet high with three chandeliers hanging down that weigh 3.500 pounds a piece and the clock in the Grand Hall has six-foot diameter face. The structure encompasses 850,000 square feet and is located south of the central business district.

Union Station heyday and decline

Rail traffic reached its peak during World War I, which at one point saw 271 trains pass through the station in one day. The station hit record numbers of passengers, over 678,000, passing through in 1945 on their way home from World War II. However, traffic began to decline the following decade as more and more Americans to the skies to crisscross the nation.

Retail and restaurants closed in the station in the late 1960s and passenger traffic dropped under 33,000 by 1973 with just six trains passing through the station per day. A Canadian firm was brought in to redevelop the station and its surroundings the following year.

While two office buildings were built adjacent to Union Station, the company was unable to make improvements to the federally designated protected structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places. By 1983, the station was in disrepair and closed to the public with the exception of a bubble in the Grand Hall and a restaurant. Two years later Amtrak moved out and the station completely closed to the public.

Union Station’s rebirth

Kansas City sued Trizec, the firm tasked with redeveloping the station, in 1988 and settled six years later. Then in 1996, residents of the metro area in Jackson, Clay, and Platte counties in Missouri and Johnson County in Kansas voted to levy a eighth of a cent sales tax to restore Union Station. Work was completed three years later, restoring it to its former glory and it became home to shops, restaurants, theaters, exhibits and Science City, an interactive science center, drawing the public back as well as tourists to the City of Fountains.

Amtrak was able to move back in by 2002. The railroad station handles four trains per day from the Southwest Chief and the Missouri River Runner.

The Kansas City Massacre at Union Station

Tragic events unfolded Valentine’s Day 2024 during what was supposed to be a celebration for the four-time Super Bowl champions. Shortly after the Kansas City Chiefs left the stage in front of Union Station and the crowds at the rally were dispersing, shots rang out. The projectiles unleashed tragically found several victims.

This wasn’t the first time that a violent shooting has taken place at the historic building. In 1933, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and police were escorting convicted mobster Frank Nash at the station. Members of his gang tried to free him from custody in a shootout. Four law enforcement officers were killed along with Nash. That infamous 17 June gun battle resulted in the FBI agents being allowed to carry fire arms and make arrests, which they previously didn’t have the authority to do.

While the details are still developing about what happened in the wake of the Super Bowl rally, an angry KCPD chief Stacey Graves said at a press conference “This is not Kansas City.” Commentators pointed out though that this has become all too common an event across the United States, and wondered if this latest fatal act of gun violence will bring about much needed and called for reform.

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