St. Louis Union Station Tour | At Home With P. Allen SmithOn December 26, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
I don’t know about you, but I love to come
to places that represent excellence in style, whether it’s something from our past or present.
And here I am in Union Station, in St. Louis, and this place is fantastic. It looks like
a French castle. We’re about to catch up with my friend, Francis, who’s gonna tell us a
whole lot more about this place. This was the main entrance to St. Louis Union Station.
The station opened on September 1, 1894. Now, it is said that two weeks before the station
opened, two workman were putting the finishing touches on this floor. The marble here. Yes.
And one of the workman hit his finger. And he was working at one end? Exactly. He said
something he shouldn’t of said, and his buddy said: “You better watch your language, you’ve
been warned.” And when they turned and looked at each other, they realized they were 40
feet away. This is the famous Whispering Arch. It’s an architectural phenomenon. When you
stand and talk to one side of the wall, your voice hits it, it shoots over the arch, and
the person 40 feet away can hear you, as if they’re standing at your shoulder. And I see
the great lion. I guess that’s the Lion of St. Louis? Somewhat. St. Louis is more of
a bear than a lion. Oh, okay. Theodore Link, some people say he was superstitious. Oh.
Other say it was references to the Bible. Oh. But as you walk around St. Louis Union
Station, you’ll notice a few things. Theodore Link did things in sequences of 7. Ah huh.
There are 7 arched stained glass windows on each side of the Grand Hall. There are 7 lights
in each of the windows. Sure. The other thing about Theodore Link is that he felt that only
a good soul could pass underneath an archway. Really? There’s no way to get in or out of
St. Louis Union Station without walking underneath and arch. Well, there is something magical
about passing a threshold or moving through a space like that. Yeah. But, you know, as
a designer, I mean, most designers do recognize the power of odd numbers. And so, I think
that was probably weighing on his mind too. Somewhat, I’m sure. Yeah, yeah. But, you know,
this archway and the layers of gilding and stenciling too, I mean, it’s sort of the best
of William Morris and Pugin, and a lot of those great old boys at the end of the 19th
century that were so active with this level of decoration, both in England and America.
Yes, all the gold in this room is real gold. It’s gold leafing. All of the walls are concrete,
so as look at what looks like marble walls… Right. It’s a painting technique called scagliola.
Sure. Which gives it that marbleized effect. Faux finish. Exactly. Now, those 7 ladies…
I love the fact that they’re each holding… The lights. Flames. That guided the trains
in. But they’re not statues. It’s a type of art called relief tracery. What they are,
are the prettiest dust collectors you’ll ever see. So are they bi-relief? They just sort
of come out –just a bit– of the wall? They’re in the wall. Instead of– most times a statue
is outside. You’re doing your artwork on the outside. This is done on the inside. Ah, so
rather than… It’s the relief. It’s the trace. It’s the opposite of what it would be. So
rather than projecting out… It projects in. It’s actually projected inward. And then,
when you had millions of trains backing into a station, you have millions of tons of coal
and soot going up in the air. Ah, right. So the dustier they got… I hadn’t thought about
that. That’s how the detail came out. So if we talk about the order of this: You have
the head house, which is… Exactly. This great, beautiful French chateaux… Exactly.
Or castile. And then you have the midway, which is… The midway point. That transition
space… Exactly. Between that and the… Train shed. The train shed, which is– was
the largest in the world. 42 tracks underneath it. Largest single… Spans more than 11 1/2
acres. That’s just wild. But the midway was the sight to be seen and to see. Who’s coming
in next? What was happening next? Oh, I see, right. Francis, this has been such a treat
to see this. Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm and this marvelous place with me. I’m glad
you got to experience St. Louis Union Station. We love it. We love to show it to people.
Well, I hope to come back soon. It was wonderful meeting you. Thank you, so much. Bye-bye.
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