Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Omaha Union Station -- An Art Deco Monument

If you asked Daughter Number Three-Point-One about her family's travel habits, she would tell you that we visit food co-ops and college Student Unions wherever we go. Lately, she would have to add train stations to her list of sites visited.

Omaha is no exception. The city's former train station, now the Durham Museum, opened exactly 80 years ago, and was in operation until 1971 -- just 40 years of use for a beautiful Art Deco landmark.

Sign and exterior west end of the Durham Museum
Fortunately, instead of tearing it down or letting it stand empty, the building was immediately deeded to the city, which turned it into a museum of Western heritage.

White exterior above the west doors, engraved Omaha Union Station, with two flanking sculptural figures
Designed by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, the exterior features heroic figures high above the doors. According to one of the explanatory cards in the exhibit, "Underwood wanted to emphasize three characteristics of the railroad in his design: strength, power, and masculinity."

Close up of engineer figure with blunt features, grasping a hammer
This plaster cast of the engineer figure is found within the small exhibit about the history of the station.

The waiting room with long benches, checkered pattern on floor. Two sculptures of soldiers sit and stand as if talking
Twenty years after the museum opened, the building was beautifully renovated, recreating what it must have looked like when it opened. The terrazzo floors shine...

Ticket windows with metal grates. A sculpted woman figure stands at one window
...the ticket windows, which now enclose the gift shop, look like they're open for business...

Sculpted figure of a man stands looking at a large metal sign listing train times
...and even the timetables are in use.

The main train station hall from floor to ceiling, showing the chandeliers and windows
The expanse of the space is inspiring.

Detail of the Durham ceiling with beautiful art deco motifs and colors
The ceiling details include metallic silver.

Detail of the designs, stylized pine trees, kind of zigzag
These stylized trees (and is that a fountain?) decorate the space between the windows.

(By the way, the original soda fountain is still in operation, in case you're thirsty.)

The exhibits are mostly down in the lower level, which used to connect to the track concourses that now are mostly empty of tracks. They include a good overview of Omaha's history, as well as two trains that show Union Pacific cars from a range of eras.


Cinday said...

Nice post. I enjoyed the photos. What a great idea, too, to utilize the railroad station theme in the museum. Are the human figures sculptures done by a local artist? Lovely way to preserve the building. Cinda

Ms Sparrow said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing. I wish we had such lovely examples of art deco here in the Twin Cities.