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Watch the only extant footage of Union Station’s 1939 opening

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Los Angeles’s grandest train station opened May 3, 1939

A large tan building. There are tall palm trees in front of the building. Getty Images

It was 80 years ago—the year Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz were released—that Los Angeles's magnificent Union Station opened for business.

The ornate Spanish Colonial Revival depot was built atop the remains of Los Angeles’s original Chinatown, which had been unceremoniously demolished to make way for a central terminal for the three largest rail companies operating in the city: Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, and Santa Fe. Its grand opening on May 3, 1939, was marked by an enormous celebration and parade that drew 500,000 spectators—at least by the count of the Los Angeles Times, which had lobbied fiercely for the station’s construction.

Incredibly, color footage of the event still exists, shot by Ward Kimball, an award-winning Disney animator and part-time rail nerd. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which operates the Ward Kimball Collection, in 2014 released the six-minute video.

The clip was preserved by the Academy Film Archive and partially funded by the research library and archive at Metro, which now owns Union Station and is overseeing a major overhaul.

The video doesn’t show much of the station itself, but you can see the extravagant parade, complete with extravagant automobiles, fake cowboys, imitation prairie children, state-of-the-art 1930s weaponry, and a few of the earliest trains running in California (the train at the beginning of the video is the C.P. Huntington, which you can see in person at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento).

The only thing missing from the festivities, wrote the Times on the following day, was “the ancient and honorable cry through the brazen tonsils of an old-time train caller: A-l-l A-bo-o-o-o-a-r-d!”

Union Station

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