Where We Live: Union Station’s past and future

Union Station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975

Union Station in Portland, the oldest terminal on the West Coast (KOIN, file)
Union Station in Portland, the oldest terminal on the West Coast (KOIN, file)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When it comes to historic architecture in the Rose City, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example than Portland’s Union Station. It’s the oldest terminal on the west coast, having undergone several transformations — with more scheduled to come, here, in the city where we live.

Prosper Portland plans for Union Station

It takes one glance to appreciate the building. With its striking exterior and distinctive “Go By Train” clock tower, Union Station is the city’s rail transportation hub. It supports more than half a million Amtrak passengers every year.

Union Station could be a catalyst for the future, while maintaining its rail-transportation schedule (KOIN)

The station opened in 1896, an idea that emerged a decade earlier by railroad baron Henry Villard. He owned the Northern Pacific Railway, one of 3 major railways that came into Portland, making the Rose City a critical transportation link.

Mister Villard thought that this would be an ideal opportunity to have a grander version for the station,” said architect Peter Meijer, a Union Station consultant.

Villard had visions to make Union Station the largest train station in the world, but financial troubles derailed his plan. Northern Pacific eventually built Union Station for $300,000 — a fortune in the 1890s. Forty-years later, famed Portland architect Pietro Belluschi re-designed the station’s lobby into the ornate space it is today.

Over the years, Union Station has greeted millions of passengers, including soldiers going and coming home, reuniting with family members in this historic place. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Peter Meijer is an architect and consultant for Union Station (KOIN)

“It tells a story in history about railway,” Meijer said. “It (also) tells a story in history about Portland.”

The station is also a key to Portland’s future. Since travelers have more options now, Union Station plans to adapt. Prosper Portland — the former Portland Development Commission which now owns the station — is exploring other uses, including retail, restaurants and passenger amenities. It hopes to become a catalyst in the future while maintaining its historic character and keeping trains on schedule — well, mostly on time.