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The original version of what became Union Station in Little Rock (Pulaski County) was built in 1872–73. This building was demolished in 1906 to make way for a concrete and brick structure built in 1907. This station burned in 1920 but was rebuilt, opening again in summer 1921. Also known as the Missouri Pacific or “MoPac” Station, Union Station is located on Markham and Victory streets and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 17, 1977. In the twenty-first century, it is used as a stop for the Amtrak Texas Eagle and as part of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. It also serves as an event venue and houses office space.
The fire in 1920 that destroyed the 1907 station was reportedly Little Rock’s largest fire to date. Charles S. Fallon, who was fiercely opposed to smoking, claimed to have set the building on fire because of the public smoking policy. Train service was not disrupted, however, because the concourse and train shed were still standing.
A new building was constructed, using much of the existing building material. After the fire, the original clock tower that stood was not damaged and was restored. The 1907 Renaissance Revival–style characteristics were generally kept, although the roof was changed from gabled to flat. The Stewart Construction Company of St. Louis built the new station at a cost of $1.25 million. According to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, the grand opening was held “on August 1, 1921, at the stroke of midnight.” The Arkansas Gazette called the station “one of the finest and most modern in the South.” Baggage, express, and freight rooms were on the basement (or ground) level with loading dock areas were on the southern end. The main level (or first floor) held the main lobby, passenger waiting rooms (white and “colored”), ticket windows, and dining facilities. The second and third floors housed offices, including telephone and telegraph offices. The 1907 concourse and train shed built were incorporated into the new station and remained until at least the late 1960s.
The south elevation of the 1921 building is its principal façade, facing diagonally toward the downtown business section of Little Rock and obliquely toward the Arkansas State Capitol complex. The exterior is a combination of brick and stone, with ornate carvings, fountains, archways at the main entrance into the building. Extensive plaster molding served as the main interior design. The floor-to-ceiling measurement on the main level is twenty-four feet. The ground level of the building contains numerous brick arches and a nonfunctioning steam boiler, which was integrated into the restoration of the building.
The main floor, which contains 27,133 square feet, housed the storied Buster’s Restaurant & Bar and Slick Willy’s World of Entertainment in the 1970s and 1980s; these were the precursor to the Dallas-based Dave & Buster’s chain of restaurants/arcades. The Arkansas Community Foundation (ARCF) has its offices there. The second floor has the same square footage and contains spacious, high-ceilinged offices. The third floor has 15,405 square feet.
In the 1990s, the Amtrak station was moved from the main lobby level to the 31,345-square-foot basement level, and a renovation was done was to recreate the look of a tile-floored 1920s passenger waiting room. In the 1990s, the lobby area/main passenger waiting room was sectioned off into office space. Next Level Events, an event venue and catering business, is located in the basement along with the Amtrak station.
For additional information:
“Fire Destroys M. P. Railroad Station.” Arkansas Democrat, April 8, 1920, p. 1.
“MoPac Station.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/PU3098.nr.pdf (accessed May 9, 2017).
“Sandwiching in History—Union Station.” Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/Learn-More/sandwiching-in-history-archives (accessed May 9, 2017).
Henderson State University
Last Updated 5/9/2017
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