On January 11, 2017, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior designated Omaha Union Station (listed on the National Registry of Historic Places since 1971) a National Historic Landmark. Which is kind of a big deal: only about 2,500 of the more than 85,000 sites on the National Register of Historic Places are designated National Historic Landmarks.
I’ve shot this magnificent example of Art Deco architecture before, but wanted to highlight its new status with this post. Interior’s January designation noted that the Station “is one of the most distinctive and complete examples of Art Deco architecture in the nation . . . [and] outstandingly expresses the style’s innovative and diverse surface ornamentation inspired by the machine age.” That surface ornamentation includes the heroic female and male railroad worker bas-relief sculptures seen in the photos below (and close up here and here). The station’s great hall boasts a 60 foot high, sculpted plaster ceiling with gold and silver leaf trim, a terrazzo floor including marvelous starbust patterns, and impressive 13-foot tall chandeliers. See here for more on the station’s history and architecture.
Designed by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood in 1929, Omaha Union Station opened in 1931. In addition to other rail stations and federal buildings such as the San Francisco Mint, Underwood is known for designing landmark lodges and hotels in many National Parks, including Yellowstone, Bryce, Grand Teton, and Yosemite (there the famous Ahwahnee Hotel, currently embroiled in a trademark dispute over rights to its name, but that’s another story).
The designated landmark is actually the third Omaha Union Station at the site and replaced the second Union Station built adjacent to the historic 10th Street bridge in 1899. Omaha Burlington Station—first opened in 1898 across the rail yard from Union Station—also served passengers in the busy Omaha rail hub of the first half of the 20th Century, the fourth largest in the country. Union Station alone served about 10,000 passengers per day in the 1940s. Passenger rail service declined drastically starting in the mid-1950s, and both Omaha Union Station and Burlington Station closed in the early 1970s when a new Amtrak station opened nearby.
Donated by Union Pacific to the City of Omaha, Union Station now houses the Durham Museum. As noted on the museum’s website, the Durham showcases everything from permanent exhibits highlighting the history of Omaha and its surrounding regions, to traveling exhibitions from the museum’s national partners including the Smithsonian, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Field Museum.
A full set of two dozen photos of Omaha Union Station I’ve shot over the years may be seen here, on Flickr.