Through the decades: Union Station Chicago

During World War II, Union Station was at its busiest, handling as many as 300 trains and 100,000 passengers daily. Chicago Union Station is the result of the vision of famed architect Daniel Burnham and opened in May 1925 after ten years of construction.

Sitting on a huge, dark, bench in the Grand hall, I remember seeing the restaurant, high above, tables dressed in finery, located by the wall, diners looking down on commuters and out of state travelers at Union Station. Now, partitions close off that area while restaurants are scattered on the same floor or a level below.  For many years, people did not believe me about the restaurant high above those seats since it was closed in the early 1960’s until I found a postcard describing the place. We were waiting for family to arrive from out of state. I was only five.  And I was mesmerized by the grand staircases, the call for trains, and of course, eating up above.

I remember Union Station again when I was ten in 1965 probably seated on the same bench to travel on a train to Missouri.  Before Amtrak that was opened in the early 1970’s, the trip was on the Chicago Burlington and Quincy railroad that operated from Union Station and took my girl scout troop to Hannibal Missouri. As far as trains and train stations were concerned, I knew the Illinois Central best that traveled from the south side of Chicago into downtown. The station was located near Michigan Ave and the Chicago public library…not the grand Union station. But it was the long hallways to the train that fascinated me. The organization of out of towners with their suitcases and the conductors and railway workers that wanted the best for travelers. People were dressed professionally including woman and children.

According to American Rails,  the station once boasted no fewer than a half-dozen terminals served by all of the major railroads reaching there with legendary trains such as the Broadway LimitedSuper Chief, and 20th Century Limited all boarding at different locations. While the station’s passenger concourse was torn down in the late 1960s, the station is still used for Metra commuters to the suburbs and Amtrak.

Opened in 1925, Chicago Union Station is is the fourth-busiest rail terminal in the United States with over 100,000 Metra riders that commute everyday to downtown Chicago and travel to all the suburbs even traveling as far as Aurora. Living in Downers Grove for many years, the Metra arrives at three stations and travels to Union as its final stop and there are alot of trains to choose from. Though never commuting for a job to the city, I have traveled for many decades on the Metra to visit friends and travel for amusement in downtown Chicago.

Currently, The Food Court is located on at the Mezzanine level, with additional retail options and amenities located throughout the station. Always changing through the years depending on the popularity such as greasy hamburger/hotdog booths and now Jamba Juice.Though I do remember seeing a woman’s beauty parlor and waiting room combined and a barbershop for men. These rooms are now refurbished as event space.

2 thoughts on “Through the decades: Union Station Chicago”

  1. I have been there many times! I loved taking the Metra into Chicago. I have also taken the train from Illinois to Colorado and vice versa many times. My Mom still takes the train when she visits. Chicago is quite a city! God bless!

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  2. I went through Union Station for years when I worked in the Loop. I can honestly say that I was awed every single day by its’ beautiful architecture. Love the grandeur of it~

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