Bristling with train, light rail and bus portals, an eye-popping “Great Hall,” eight new restaurants, two bars, an elegant hotel and a half acre of splashing water fountains, Denver’s recently restored Union Station has become the center of the city’s bustling downtown area — again..
A century ago, the railroads transformed Denver from a dusty frontier town to the largest and most opulent city between Chicago and San Francisco. In the golden age of railroading, Denver’s lavish 1914 Union Station was a beehive of activity, handling up to 200 trains per day.
This time, Denver Union Station serves as a transportation center for light rail, AMTRAK, a massive bus network, two electric bus shuttles and — coming in 2016 — a 24-mile-long rail line to Denver International Airport.
The folks at Visit Denver put together this backgrounder on railroading in Colorado and some major features of Union Station:
Following the discovery of gold and silver in the Rocky Mountains in the 1860s, railroad lines were pushed up canyons and over high passes, making them the lifeline of every mining camp in the state. By 1880, there were dozens of railroads passing through Denver, and the city had four stations. Jay Gould and Walter Cheesman consolidated this network into one central location called Union Depot.
Although nothing remains of the original station (it burned down), the current one, designed in the Beaux Arts style by local architects Gove and Walsh, was completed in 1914 and completely restored in 2014.
The old waiting room has been re-christened “The Great Hall.” With its soaring arched windows, this grand room is open to the public 24-7. The old ticket windows have been turned into The Terminal Bar, which features more than 30 Colorado craft beers and a huge outdoor patio. In front of the station is a new water park with dozens of dancing fountains shooting water into the air (it’s particularly pretty at night when the fountains are lighted).
Looking down on the Great Hall from a terrace above is The Cooper Lounge, designed to re-create the glamorous old-Hollywood days of railroading with high-end cocktails and a long wine list.
In the wings of the Great Hall is the elegant 112-room Crawford Hotel. Named after local developer and preservationist Dana Crawford (who was also responsible for preserving nearby Larimer Square), The Crawford is affiliated with the Oxford Hotel across the street and shares their spa and meeting facilities.
The Crawford has three styles of rooms. “Pullman” rooms on the second floor are modeled after the luxury private sleeping cars of old. “Classic” rooms on the third floor come with tall ceilings and large windows. The former attic area hosts “Loft” rooms, featuring exposed wood timbers, vaulted ceilings and a more contemporary design. To take advantage of the station’s architectural features, most of the rooms in the hotel are one-of-a-kind designs and shapes.
On the ground floor of the station are some of Denver’s finest new restaurants and classic retailers.