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L.A.’s Union Station Makeover Plans New Restaurant, Streamlined Train System

Firms overseeing the renovation of the venerable transit hub, also a popular filming spot, consider its history along with the needs of high-speed rail

The classic noir film “Union Station” (1950) showed the 1939 train depot in its heyday as the last of America’s great railway stations, even if L.A. subbed for Chicago in typical Hollywood fashion.

But “Blade Runner” (1982), another one of the hundreds of productions shot there, may be a more appropriate model for today’s jumble of uses that includes Amtrak trains, the Metro Rail subway, buses, filming and events that often take over the serene Spanish-tiled courtyards.

Some of the most significant architectural features of the Mission Revival building with Dutch Colonial Revival touches are hidden from travelers: The pristinely preserved Fred Harvey restaurant (he of “The Harvey Girls” fame), with its Streamline Moderne features and the soaring trussed ceilings of the main ticketing hall can only be seen by location crews or those attending private events.

But Union Station is prepping for a new era with a master plan being finalized in the next year to kick off a more efficient and attractive complement to Downtown’s revitalization.

L.A.’s Gruen Associates and London’s Grimshaw Architects were awarded the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s commission to bring the 40-acre site into the 21st century and prepare for an eventual high-speed rail line.

While preservationists and location managers are concerned about keeping the building’s vintage character intact, the architects are also sensitive to that concern.

“It is unique and iconic, and everyone has a memory of the historic station, either from a personal experience or a favorite movie,” says Gruen partner Debra Gerod. “It is really important to us that it is appropriately revitalized.”

Gerod says in addition to making public transportation easier to use and more inviting for passengers, the project needs a better connection to the rest of downtown. A bridge across the 101 freeway could solve that problem.

“Right now it’s so blocked off,” admits L.A. County Metro’s Jenna Hornstock, project manager who envisions underground parking and a space for large public celebrations and performances.

While funding and construction will take many more years, one aspect should be ready much faster: According to communications manager Dave Sotero, Metro is talking to some “visionary restaurateurs” about getting a restaurant into the Fred Harvey space in time for the building’s 75th anniversary in May that will “capture the right energy of Union Station.”

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