Since Oscars are handed out in Union Station, an 80-year-old drama plays overhead


It was after midnight on a June night time in 2017 when the finding was made. Union Station’s entry vestibule — a good ode to Mission Actuelle architecture, with its Spanish floor tile floor and draping Artwork Deco chandeliers — had been virtually deserted. A restoration cleaning crew was wiping down the tarnished ceiling sections, dim, brownish squares that will hadn’t been cleaned in nearly 80 years and had been so caked with cigarette tar and dirt that they appeared to be solid wood rather than coated plaster.

Among the two workers, perched on the boom lift about 40 feet high, gently easily wiped a section of the ceiling along with cleaning solution, causing the swath of bright fruit to appear. Repeated cleaning quickly revealed bits of yellow plus peach shining through. Beneath the darkened surface, there was a vibrant painting, original towards the architecture, bearing a floral pattern.

“It was like, wow! We knew there was something under there, but we had no idea it was this brightly colored pattern, ” said Dyana Elan, construction manager of Union Station . “It was a really interesting discovery. ”

Vivid floor and wall tiles beneath the picturesque, restored ceiling in Union Station's entry vestibule.

Union Station’s restored entry vestibule, where a radiant hand-painted ceiling was present in 2017. It had been hidden underneath decades of tobacco tar and dirt.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

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The ceiling cleaning was part of an eight-year, $4. 1-million restoration that will began in 2013 and ended in March. The particular project — the first of a three-phase change of the station — included cleaning plus restoration of the station’s chandeliers, restoration of the black walnut ticket concourse counter, repair of broken acoustic and ceramic tiles on indoor walls, the cleaning plus sealing of brass- plus bronze-trimmed windows, doors and storefronts, and restoration from the building’s clay tile roof. The work was executed by a variety of specialty contractors. It was EverGreene Architectural Arts that will made the painting breakthrough.

The now-gleaming train station will get its close-up this Sunday when the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony is broadcast live through throughout its historic halls. (Elements of the show will also be broadcast live from Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre . ) Candidates, their guests and presenters will be in attendance at Union Station with COVID-19 safety protocols in place. On April 29, the refurbished space will open to the public, its big reveal.

Oscar-level drama is just not new to Union Station. The particular eight-year renovation was full of mystery, intrigue and problems around seemingly every change.

As it turns out, versions of the ceiling artwork, California wildflowers by L. A. artist Herman Sachs , bloom brightly throughout the station, the task crew discovered. They show on floor and wall tiles as well, uniting the station’s design. And there’s a slightly different color palette in each room. The access vestibule ceiling is awash in warm tones associated with orange, yellow and peach, but cleaning the ticket concourse ceiling revealed more green, and restoring the particular waiting room ceiling revealed purple and lavender.


Cleaning the particular ceilings, however , also exposed massive deterioration. There was better water damage in the entryway than anyone had expected, and several parts were moldy. Pieces of plaster had dropped from the panels and supports or were in danger of falling and injuring website visitors. Several panels had been quickly repaired in the past, sloppily patched with paint that did not match the original design.

“It almost looked like a Dalmatian, with darkish spots everywhere, ” Animation said. “We saw all of the imperfections and it was like: Oh yea, my god, what do all of us do? ”

Scaffolding obscures work areas in the Union Station waiting room.

Workers from Union Station in February, during the final stages of an eight-year restoration project.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Maintaining the historical condition of architecture by the father-son team Steve and Donald B. Parkinson was associated with primary importance. In 2011, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority purchased Union Place in a state of downfall, Elan said. The recent renovation was the station’s very first major face-lift since starting in 1939, Elan mentioned, and the agency wanted to still do it.


However , there was only very old documentation of Union Station’s construction to work alongside — black and white photographs of the building going up, hand-drawn building plans, hard-to-decipher scribbled information and old shop sketches from more than 80 years back. So there was no way to determine the original ceiling paint shades. Nor was there the written record of the first paint materials used, leaving the restoration crew guessing as to whether the paint was oil based or water based.

“We felt it was important to attempt to stay as close to the original paint composite as possible since we didn’t know set up artist was going for a particular look, ” Elan stated. “Depending upon the type of color you use, you can get very different results. ”

A forensic investigation ensued within 2017, led by Architectural Resources Group, that integrated a microscopic evaluation of materials in the ceiling. A historical preservation consultant through ARG photographed areas and took samples away within baggies, to be analyzed in the lab. “Similar to what you would see in a crime display, ” Elan said. Sometimes she dug through as much as seven layers of paint to unearth what she hoped was the historic level.


“We didn’t wish to go back in with anything that wasn’t historically accurate, ” Vitality said.

The particular investigation extended to other areas of the building and turned up surprises. Black-painted bells on the exterior from the building that were presumed to be solid cast iron turned out to have 24 karat gold leaf filigree. They were restored to their original intent. Grills covering electrical panels within the ticket concourse that were long thought to be black-painted cast metal turned out to be a gold-colored mixture of bronze and aluminum. Dark air conditioning vent grills uncovered, after cleaning, the color turquoise beneath.

“All those colors, they inform a story, ” Elan said. “We look at the station as a whole piece of art, and if the colors aren’t true to the original purpose, then we’re doing a disservice to the artist. ”

March 2020 brought more drama. When COVID-19 hit , the project’s fate abruptly hung in the balance.


“There was a lot of not known, a lot of uncertainty, ” Elan said. “Changes had to be made in terms of job web site cleanliness, understanding spacing for your teams. ”

With fewer people functioning at once, Elan expected sluggish progress over a longer time period — and more money spent. But the opposite turned out to be true.

With the station practically empty as of mid-March last year, the team was able to speed up renovation, particularly in mid-2020 when it started prepping repair of the typically bustling waiting room. Instead of sectioning off areas with scaffolding so that passengers could move securely around the construction, and then having to deinstall and reinstall the scaffolding elsewhere in the room as work progressed, the particular restoration team took over the space freely and was able to function faster, even socially distanced. (A COVID-19 testing kiosk that opened at Union Station in September can be outdoors, in the South Outdoor. )


“A lightbulb went off, ” Elan said. “Let’s catch this opportunity and really press this thing through. ”

Lively ceiling panels and stained-glass chandeliers in the ticket concourse at Union Station.

The newly restored roof in the historic ticket concourse at Union Station.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The ticket concourse roof project, which involved cleaning, patching 70, 000 linear feet of plaster plus repainting panels, was completed a year ago. Around that time, the particular team discovered a ceiling beam, dated 1945, along with signatures on it. It’s structure tradition that when a building’s steel substructure is nearing completion, the team signs the final beam before it is hoisted and secured in position. But a mystery continues to be: The building was completed in 1939, not 1945.

“We believe the ceiling was still under structure in one way or another after that, ” Elan said. “Maybe the ceiling was still being painted years following the station opened. ”


The ceiling in the cavernous waiting room, with its restored Art Deco wood plus leather chairs, was the final stage of the renovation.

A protective layer wasn’t applied to any of the ceilings so as not to inhibit long term restoration efforts.

“It can be detrimental when you try to go back later on trying to do what we did, ” Elan said, “which is certainly investigate or identify the progression of what has been done. ”

The next two phases of renovation are “unsexy” but much needed, Elan said. Phase 2, safety and security projects, will be well underway and will be designed in late 2022. It includes People in america With Disabilities Act enhancements such as wheelchair ramps plus automatic openers on historic doors, upgraded internet plus enhanced security and open fire safety systems.


Phase 3, creature convenience projects, will be finished within 2023. It includes renovation from the parking lots, plumbing infrastructure and ticket concourse restrooms, among other things.

Expect crisis, even in the benign.

“Things aren’t constantly as they seem on the surface here, ” Elan said. “If you dig a little deeper, you can end up finding a lot more information that you didn’t initially anticipate. ”