On This Date In Twin Cities History - April 3, 1920
On this date in 1920, the head house of the current St. Paul Union Depot opens to the public.
In 1879, the St. Paul Union Depot Company was incorporated by the railroads serving St. Paul. It was created for the purpose of building and operating a single, jointly owned railroad-passenger terminal in the city.
The depot that stands today is the second St. Paul Union Depot building. The first, opened in 1881, was destroyed by fire in 1884 and then rebuilt. In 1901, it was remodeled and an addition was added as well. On October 3, 1913, fire again damaged the depot. The fire expedited planning for the construction of a new depot that would better serve the city’s growing passenger traffic.
The nine railroads that owned the depot agreed on a budget of $15 million after a long dispute over the size and cost of a new depot. A nationally-known designer of railroad stations, Charles Frost, was chosen as the architect for the new depot. Work began in 1917 with George J. Grant Construction Company and Foley Brothers as the principal contractors. Three years later, the new depot’s head house opened. The concourse and the waiting room were completed and opened in phases between 1922 and 1924.
The number of trains using the depot declined in the 1920s and 1930s and then rose again briefly during World War II. In response to increased automobile and airline competition, railroads ultimately decreased their use of passenger trains. Amtrak took over intercity passenger service on May 1, 1971 and moved all remaining trains to the Great Northern Depot in Minneapolis. That same year, the St. Paul Union Depot was closed and all the tracks and boarding platforms were dismantled. In 1974, depot’s head house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1978, the concourse and waiting room were sold to the US Postal Service and a private developer bought the business lobby in 1981.
In the following years, a number of businesses opened and closed in the head house and numerous redevelopment ideas were discussed with none ever being realized.
In 2011, the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority bought the 33-acre depot site for $95 million and began a 23-month, $243 million renovation. In December 2012, the restoration was completed returning the depot to its original 1920s splendor. Additional new construction involved rebuilding the train deck and tracks, and building a new multilevel passenger drop-off entrance with ticketing and baggage counters. Today, the St. Paul Union Depot is once again a bustling transportation hub serving bus, train and light rail traffic and is the eastern terminus for the Twin Cities Green Line.
Image: St. Paul Union Depot circa 1924 (MHS)