Union Station Tacoma is located prominently in downtown Tacoma, right along Pacific Avenue near the Tacoma Art Museum, Washington State History Museum, and many of the best restaurants in the region. From the outside, the building is stately and eye-catching with its large, sweeping arches and brick exterior. From the inside, it's even more beautiful, though, with the largest collection of Dale Chihuly artwork in town - and it's completely free to come in and see it.
But there's a lot more to this building than even many residents may know.
Facts about Tacoma's Union Station
1. Union Station's History goes way back. In 1873, Tacoma was picked as the end of the line for the northern rail line of the transcontinental railroad. In 1892, the location for Union Station was chosen, and in 1906, Reed and Stem began to design this cool building. It opened to the public in 1911. Rail travel declined after WWII and the new Amtrak station near the Tacoma Dome—the last train left Union Station in 1984, not long before the building began to crumble and was shut down to the public. After renovations, the federal court moved into the building in 1992 and today there are ten courtrooms here.
2. In 1974, Union Station Tacoma was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
3. Visiting Union Station is free and open to the public during weekday business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Because this is a federal courthouse, visitors do go through a security check.
Be prepared to open your bag, if you have one.
4. Union Station has more artwork inside of it than some of the local museums and galleries. Inside the large rotunda area, you can view several installations by glass artist Dale Chihuly’s artwork. Chihuly is from Tacoma and you'll find his artwork in many locations around town, but Union Station has very possibly the best collection in town.
As soon as you walk in, you will notice a large Chandelier hanging from the center of the dome. Take one of the sets of stairs or the elevator to the second floor to get a closer look at several additional exhibitions, including a metal framework intertwined with hundreds of individual twisted glass pieces, a set of orange discs called Persians mounted against a window that look amazing when the light streams in, a wall filled with drawings and paintings by the artist, and a set of Reeds (tall thin glass tubes) against another large window.
5. Union Station is also a great viewpoint. From the second floor, views of the Thea Foss waterway and Mt Rainier are sure to please. Union Station is worth seeing if you live in Tacoma and have never been here, and this is a great place to take visitors from out of town.
6. Tacoma Union Station was built in the Beaux-Arts style of architecture and designed by architectural firm Reed and Stem. Reed and Stem also designed famous Grand Central Terminal in New York City. The large rotunda inside the building is capped with a soaring 90-foot-high dome topped with a skylight, many walls are made of marble, and the floors are terrazzo. At one point, the skylight developed a leak and threatened the safety of the structure, ultimately leading to this landmark closing to the public throughout much of the 1980s for renovation.
40,000 pounds of copper were used to cover the dome in this renovation.
7. Today, there is not much left of the building’s train station history. Most of the railroad tracks and train platforms were removed over time to accommodate the transition to a courthouse.
8. There are few places in or near Tacoma that could rival Union Station as an event space with 9,000 square feet of space in the rotunda and an additional 4,000 square feet of balcony. There is seating space for up to 1,200 people so if you are interested in a large wedding—this is your place.
9. Union Station is also a popular option for local high school dances and can be scheduled for other large events. There may be no more impressive event venue in town.
10. One of the best activities to impress visitors and also a great way to spend a sunny weekend day is to take in the sites of downtown Tacoma on a self-guided walking tour.
Public artwork is plentiful along the main strip of Pacific Avenue, providing touchstones at each location here. Locations to see include Tacoma Art Museum, Washington State History Museum, Union Station, the Bridge of Glass, and even the Swiss, which is a cool restaurant and bar that has a variety of artwork on its walls. If you want a little more guidance on your route, start at the Tacoma Art Museum and ask about their cell phone tour.
Location and Contact Information
1717 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98402
253-863-5173 ext. 223