Built shortly before the dawn of the Jet Age, L.A.'s Union Station has been called the Last Great American Railway Station—one final monument to rail transportation's heyday. Judging by a newly digitized color film, the city celebrated its grand opening on May 3, 1939, with appropriate fanfare.
Nearly half a million Angelenos came out for the extravagant parade past the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, as it was officially known. Historic locomotives from the station's three main tenants steamed down nearby Alameda Street, joined by vintage automobiles and other artifacts from Southern California's transportation past.
The opening day celebration has been the stuff of legend, richly remembered in photographs but rarely seen on video. Now, thanks to the preservation work of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Metro Transportation Library and Archive, we can relive the day through the only known video footage of the festivities:
In an interesting twist, the home movie was shot by legendary Disney animator Ward Kimball. As Metro's Source blog notes, Kimball created such characters as Jiminy Cricket (Pinocchio) and Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Alice in Wonderland). He also inspired Walt Disney's love of trains and model railroads—an obsession that eventually gave birth to rail-encircled Disneyland.
The video's release is but the first of many commemorations of the 75th anniversary of Union Station, now considered an architectural icon and treasured historical landmark. The official celebration takes place on Saturday, May 3. The Getty Research Institute considers the station's architectural legacy through a new book and an exhibition opening May 2 inside the Los Angeles Central Library. Angel City Press also releases a new book in May titled Los Angeles Union Station: Tracks to the Future.