AKA: Union Railroad Station, Tacoma, WA

Structure Type: built works - infrastructure - transportation structures - railroad stations

Designers: Bassetti / Norton / Metler / Rekevics, Architects (firm); Merrit + Pardini Architects (firm); Reed and Stem, Architects (firm); The Richardson Associates (TRA) Architecture, Engineering, Planning, Interiors (firm); Frederick Forde Bassetti (architect); Phillip Lee Jacobson (architect); Richard B. Metler (architect); Philip Charles Norton (architect); Charles Aldrich Reed (architect); Karlis Rekevics (architect); Allen H. Stem (architect)

Dates: constructed 1909-1911

3 stories

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1713 Pacific Avenue
Downtown, Tacoma, WA 98402-3214

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Pacific Avenue between South 17th Street and South 20th Street;


The American Architect and Building News published a small notice indicating that the Saint Paul-based architectural firm of Reed and Stem was planning a new train depot for Tacoma, WA. It wrote: "Reed & Stem, Endicott Building, St. Paul, Minn., are preparing plans for a three-story pressed brick and cut stone, fireproof station for the Northern Pacific Railway Company....Cost, $500,000. J.E. Campbell is the supervisor of bridges and buildings, Tacoma." (See "Industrial and Building News Section, American Architect and Building News,vol. XCII, no. 1646, p. 10.)

Building History

The architectural and engineering firm, Reed and Stem, produced the design for the third large rail station to serve Tacoma. (Earlier stations were built in 1883 and 1892, the latter on the same site as the 1911 building.) Charles A. Reed (1858–1911) and Allen H. Stem (1856–1931) began work in Saint Paul, MN, in 1891, but relocated their practice to New York, NY, after they won the commission for the majestic Grand Central Terminal (1903–13). Winning the Grand Central competition raised the firm's profile and attracted other major projects to them, including the King Street Station, Seattle, WA, (1906) and Michigan Central Station, Detroit, MI, (1913). Train stations became a firm design specialty, with over 100 across North America credited to them. The firm developed relationships with both the Great Northern Railway and the Northern Pacific Railway, both headquartered in Saint Paul. In the State of WA, Reed and Stem designed stations for the cities of Seattle (two), Tacoma, Ellensburg, Ritzville, Toppenish, among others. Construction of the Tacoma Union Station began in 1909 and culminated in 05/1911. Amtrak took over all US passenger rail service in 1971, and it decided to build another depot in Tacoma and bypass Union Station. All rail service ceased on 06/14/1984, and the once grand Beaux-Arts building fell into disrepair.

Building Notes

This three-story, Beaux-Arts Style station was topped with a copper-sheathed dome, that became a venerable landmark for the city. A writer for the General Services Administration described the building's form and construction: "The building's focal point is its ninety-foot-high central dome, which stands out in the Tacoma skyline and has become one of the enduring emblems of the city. Clad in gleaming copper and adorned with four large cartouches, the dome rests on a central pavilion with large arched openings on each side. Flat-roofed symmetrical wings flank the pavilion to the north and south. The exterior of the reinforced-concrete building is faced with multicolored red brick set in a Flemish-bond pattern, with limestone base and ornamental detail. The entrance doors, of stained oak with bronze hardware, are recessed within the arch on the west elevation. A large window fills the arch above the doors." (See General Services Administration, "Tacoma Union Station Building Overview,Accessed 01/25/2013.) A huge chandelier produced by glassmaker, Dale Chihuly (b. 1941 in Tacoma, WA), adorned the main 9,000-square-foot rotunda space. The station itself was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The area around the station began to be renovated during the 1970s, culminating in the creation of a National Historic District radiating seven blocks around it in 1980. By 2008, the station was being rented out for use by large gatherings; it accommodated between 800 (seated)-1200 people for receptions.


Leakage in the oculus of the building's dome weakened its structure over many years. A large earthquake on 04/29/1965 measuring 6.5 on the Richter Scale, caused damage at Union Station; according to the Seattle Times: "Tacoma's Union Station was evacuated when huge chunks of concrete fell from its roof during the quake, Tacoma police reported. Nobody was injured, but most activity at the old depot was halted until damage could be determined." (See "Tacoma's Union Station Evacuated," Seattle Times, 04/29/1965, p. 4,) Amtrak passenger train service ended on 06/14/1984. After standing vacant three years, the US Congress passed legislation enabling the General Services Administration (GSA) to lease the facility for the United States District Court for the Western District of WA. The lease would expire in 2022. Tacoma architects Merrit+Pardini partnered with the larger Seattle firm, The Richardson Associates (TRA) Architecture, Engineering, Planning, Interiors, collaborated on rehabilitation of the station. Re-facing the dome's exterior required the application of 40,000 pounds of new copper sheeting. Merrit+Pardini collaborated with the Seattle firm of Bassetti Norton Metler Rekevics on the design of a three-floor addition that stood on the north and east of the original depot. The renovation and addition were completed between 1990-1992.

National Register of Historic Places (March 15, 1974): 74001975 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 5275