Union Station Hotel: Recalling Railroad’s Glory Years

Long before it was a historic hotel, the Nashville, Tennessee, Union Station was a key center in America’s economy and transportation. Opening on October 9, 1900, for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, the building’s imposing Gothic design featuring a soaring barrel-vaulted ceiling and Tiffany-styled stained glass, was a testament to U.S. ingenuity and energy. During railroading’s glory years, Mafia kingpin Al Capone was escorted through here on his way to the Georgia penitentiary. Other fascinating facts surrounding this historic Nashville station include:

  • Construction began on August 1, 1898
  • Station officially opened on October 9, 1900
  • The track level once held two alligator ponds
  • The Train Shed was the largest unsupported span in America, housing up to 10 full trains at once

Architect Richard Montfort (1854-1931) designed the Nashville Union Station for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. The monumental station is truly special for the following characteristics:

  • Heavy-stone Richardsonian-Romanesque design
  • 65-foot, barrel-vaulted lobby ceiling, featuring gold-leaf medallions and 100-year-old, original Luminous Prism stained glass
  • Marble floors, oak-accented doors and walls, and three limestone fireplaces
  • 20 gold-accented bas-relief angel of commerce figurines
  • Two bas-relief panels—a steam locomotive and horse-drawn chariot ̶ at each end of the lobby

The station reached peak usage during World War II when it was the shipping-out point for tens of thousands of U.S. troops. After the war, it started a long decline as passenger rail service in the U.S. generally was reduced. By the 1960s, it was served by only a few trains daily. Much of its open spaces were roped off and its architectural features became largely the habitat of pigeons. The formation of Amtrak in 1971 reduced service to the northbound and southbound Floridian train each day. When this service was discontinued in October 1979, the station was abandoned entirely. The station fell into the custody of the United States Government’s General Services Administration. In the early 1980s, a group of investors came forward with a plan to finance the renovation of the station into a luxury hotel which was approved. After extensive renovation, the new investor group who bought the hotel out of bankruptcy was able to operate it profitably.

By the mid-1990s they had restored the statue of Mercury to his place atop the tower, albeit in a two-dimensional form painted in trompe l’oeil style to replicate the original. This was destroyed in the 1998 downtown Nashville tornado but was soon replaced.

Frommer’s Review reported in the New York Times:

Built in 1900 and housed in the Romanesque Gothic former Union Station railway terminal, this hotel is a grandly restored National Historic Landmark. Following a $10-million renovation, completed in 2007, all guest rooms and public spaces have been updated. The lobby is the former main hall of the railway station and has a vaulted ceiling of Tiffany stained glass…

The Union Station Hotel Nashville, Autograph Collection is a member of the Historic Hotels of America and the National Trust for Historic Preservation since 2015. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977.

Stanley Turkel was designated as the 2014 and the 2015 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Turkel is the most widely-published hotel consultant in the United States. He operates his hotel consulting practice serving as an expert witness in hotel-related cases, provides asset management and hotel franchising consultation. He is certified as a Master Hotel Supplier Emeritus by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. [email protected] 917-628-8549

My New Book “Hotel Mavens Volume 3: Bob and Larry Tisch, Curt Strand, Ralph Hitz, Cesar Ritz, Raymond Orteig” has just been published.

My Other Published Hotel Books

  • Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry (2009)
  • Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York (2011)
  • Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi (2013)
  • Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt, Oscar of the Waldorf (2014)
  • Great American Hoteliers Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry (2016)
  • Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels West of the Mississippi (2017)
  • Hotel Mavens Volume 2: Henry Morrison Flagler, Henry Bradley Plant, Carl Graham Fisher (2018)
  • Great American Hotel Architects Volume I (2019)

All of these books can be ordered from AuthorHouse by visiting www.stanleyturkel.com and clicking on the book’s title.