It took two years to build the massive train station, which it remained for much of the next 70 years. It fell into disrepair after the trains stopped running, then reopened as a mall in the mid-1980s. The run of success was strong until the great recession and a lack of shoppers closed it down again.
Now, local developer Bob O'Loughlin owns it and is promising to not only restore its greatness, but also take it into the future.
O'Loughlin has owned Union Station for about five years and has already made his imprint on it. Not only is he adding even more luxury hotel rooms, but he's doing it in a part of Union Station that very few people have ever seen. The five-story area beneath the giant clock is known as the "Watch Tower."
That is where all the major railroads that came through St. Louis had their offices.
"This is where they all did business," he says. "The Baltimore and Ohio, all the major railroads were right out of here."
The giant safes where all the money was kept are even still there. This area will soon be accessible to travelers, with amazing views of the city.
"It's not going all the way to the top, but (the rooms) will go up about four floors," O’Loughlin said.
O'Loughlin's company, Lodging Hospitality Management, has also expanded meeting and convention space in the train station. But one of the things he is most proud of is his "restoration" of the Grand Hall.
"I've been all over the world looking at lobbies and hotels and I’d put this one up against the great hotels I’ve seen all over the world," he says. "If you had to replicate this lobby, it would probably cost about $2 billion if you could find the people to do it."
Not only has he restored it, but his company had installed a laser light show on the ceiling that is captivating guests from all over the world.
Outside, the parking area now has a lake with a fire and water show entertaining diners at the two restaurants each hour. That same area will soon see the construction of a massive Ferris Wheel that will stand right next to Interstate 64.
But the biggest change may be what is happening to the old mall area. The two story area on the south leg of the terminal will soon be an aquarium. It will include dozens of sea life exhibits, including a shark tunnel and other attractions. Work on that area is beginning in the next few months, with the entire project slated to be done by spring 2019. O'Loughlin says somebody had to do it, and he's glad it's his company ushering this historic piece of architecture into the next phase.
"You’ll have an aquarium, you’ll have a Ferris wheel, you’ll have a lake show, and we think it will be a 'destination hotel' that people will be talking about around the country," O'Loughlin said.
By John Brown