A bit of the new and a bit of the old at Denver Union Station. The graceful curves of the new canopy frame the old Beaux Arts structure as Amtrak Train #6, the eastbound California Zephyr, arrives on March 8th, 2015.

Denver’s Union Station has been a fixture in the Mile High City for more than a century. The dominant Beaux Arts portion of the building dates to 1914. In the early 2000’s the station became the centerpiece of a transportation themed urban redevelopment known as FasTracks. I moved to Denver in 2001 and lived there until I moved 2 hours south to Pueblo in April of 2016. As such, I was witness to the evolution of a relic from a bygone era into a re-imagined hub of transportation activity.

During my tenure in Denver, I spent a lot of time at Union Station and my camera was a constant companion on these trips. As a result, I now have a unique set of images that documents the metamorphosis of Union Station. There are times that I miss the old layout of the station and platforms. I dream about what it would have been like to witness the arrival of trains like the City of Denver, the Denver Zephyr, the Colorado Eagle or the Rocky Mountain Rocket. Reality must be faced though, and the simple truth was that that era of transportation was no more and Union Station needed a new identity for a modern Denver.

While FasTracks has certainly had (and continues to have) its share of hiccups along the way, I think the renovation of Union Station and the redevelopment of the Lower Downtown neighborhood (LoDo) around it has to be one of the crowning achievements of the project. No longer the beautiful but somewhat forgotten relic that saw the arrival of Amtrak’s California Zephyr twice a day and not much else, Union Station once again buzzes with activity as the transportation center for a quickly growing metropolitan area. Maybe there aren’t trains like the City of Denver or Colorado Eagle anymore, but growing commuter service like the A Line to Denver International Airport and Amtrak’s Winter Park Express (a reincarnation of the old Ski Train) mean that Union Station has found new relevance in a modern age. As such, it should be around for many years to come. I look forward to exploring the continuing changes with my camera and seeing what new photo opportunities present themselves!

The old Ski Train sits at Union Station after a run up to Winter Park on January 28th, 2008. The Ski Train was discontinued in 2009.
Amtrak ran a revival of the Ski Train in 2015. The service proved popular enough that it formally started the Winter Park Express as a regular train serving skiers in 2017. This is a shot of the 2015 special at Union Station on March 13th, 2015.
A lone pedestrian travels the passage under the tracks on January 28th, 2008. This underground passageway offered access to the platforms. While the many doors to the platforms were labeled with celebrated trains that serviced Denver and the years they were active, only the California Zephyr and the Ski Train actively used the platforms in 2008.
There’s a new underground passageway at Union Station but it now leads to an active bus terminal. After the FasTracks renovation, Denver Union Station serves as a hub for the Regional Transportation District’s buses, light rail and commuter rail in addition to Amtrak’s California Zephyr and Winter Park Express.
This is a view of the station from the northwest side of the station as seen on October 26th, 2008.
The view from a similar spot on March 8th, 2015 shows how much the station has changed as a result of the FasTracks project. This view will not be possible soon as new development around the station proceeds at an incredible pace.
The waiting area of Union Station as seen on December 18th, 2009. A lone traveler sits on one of the iconic benches reading his newspaper.
The waiting area received a huge makeover during the renovation. The iconic benches were refurbished and incorporated into the design. The area is surrounded by restaurants, the Crawford Hotel, a bookstore and several other shops. While this photo taken late at night doesn’t show it, the waiting area is now bustling with activity during more normal hours.
March 26th, 2009 brought a blizzard to the Denver area. I’m always one to embrace the photographic possibilities of less than perfect weather, so I wandered down to Union Station and took this shot of the Ski Train. The weather and the few operable letters of the neon signage tell the story of the station shortly before its revival. The Ski Train would make its final run to Winter Park just three days later.
One of the new A Line trains that links Union Station with Denver International Airport sits at the station during its testing period on February 13th, 2016. The line would open on April 22nd. While the service has had some early challenges, it does serve as one of the key elements of the FasTracks program.
A large format film photograph of the station from the early to mid 2000s.
Glasses from the Terminal Bar catch the light. In addition to the travelers it serves, Union Station has become a popular scene for Denverites looking for dining, shopping and hotel options.

Christopher MayPhotograph and text Copyright 2017

See more of Christopher's work at Fine Art Photography by Christopher May

6 thoughts on “New Life for an Old Station

  1. Christopher, these are spectacular images! It is encouraging to see the evolution of Union Station into a modern and relevant part of the Denver transportation infrastructure. Congratulations on documenting the transformation so well. (The crescent moon in the October 26, 2008 image makes the scene feel other worldly), Well done.

  2. Christopher, this is an excellent record.
    I visited briefly in 1988 and it was a place very much in need of refurbishment.
    I am still not sure of the efficacy of the shed, and I am concerned it is now a stub station. However, I am thrilled the area has been revitalized as a transportation hub.
    Be that as it may, these are absolutely superb photographers. These tell the story beautifully. Well done.

    1. Dennis,

      Thank you for the very kind compliment! The shed is definitely more decorative than effective. This is pure conjecture on my part, but I’m guessing that the design team did not want the obstruction of views of the classic part of the station from the north and west. The swooping curves are reminiscent of the main terminal at Denver International Airport and I’m guessing that was intentional as well since the A line service would run from the station to DIA. Thanks again!

      Chris

  3. Nice photos. I visited for the first time in late June, 2016, coming through both directions on the Zephyr. I must say the platforms and Union Station itself were a hub of activity when we came through, which was really good to see. Interesting how your photos still show the building as primarily transit related. My admittedly brief 15-minute encounter had me thinking that while beautifully restored, it was now primarily a bar, hotel, etc. and not really intended for those who are taking the train. I honestly though those benches were not public anymore, and were now only for bar patrons. While I did find some Amtrak timetables and route guides stuck in a corner, I couldn’t find any commuter timetables (I found them on my return trip in the underground corridor, which is what really seemed to be the “transit center” now). Just really interesting how my impression was so different. (The 20+ minute reverse move to pull into the terminal also seemed pretty excessive. Wish they could find some way to shorten that.) But they definitely did a beautiful job on the restoration.

  4. Very nice stuff. The transformation has been quite the thing! You did a nice job capturing it all. That last shot of all the glasses on the bar is cool!

Leave a Reply