Nashville Union Station and Trainshed
Image of Union Station in 2008 taken at street level showing the major architectural features of what is now a hotel
Broadway and 10th Ave.|
|NRHP reference #||69000178|
|Added to NRHP||December 30, 1969|
|Delisted NHL||July 31, 2003|
Nashville's Union Station is a former railroad terminal built in 1900 to serve the passengers of the eight railroads that provided passenger service to Nashville, Tennessee, at the time. Built just west of the downtown area, it was spanned by a viaduct adjacent to the station and positioned to the east and above a natural railroad cut, through which most of the tracks in the area were routed. The station was also used by streetcars prior to their discontinuance in Nashville in 1941.
A hotel since 1986, Union Station became a Marriott Autograph Collection Hotel in 2012 and completed a full renovation of all guest rooms and public spaces in 2016. It became a member of Historic Hotels of America in 2015.
Opened October 9, 1900, as an L&N (Louisville & Nashville Railroad) station, Union Station had a long history before it shut down in October 1979. When a new post office was built in Nashville in 1935, it was located adjacent to Union Station. A connecting passageway between the two was used to transport mail to and from trains for more than three decades.
The station reached peak usage during World War II when it served as the shipping-out point for tens of thousand of U.S. troops and was the site of a USO canteen. The station's decline started shortly thereafter when passenger rail service throughout the U.S. generally began to decline. By the early 1960s, L&N was the only rail carrier serviced by Union Station, and only a few trains passed through daily. The primary L&N passenger trains through Nashville included:
The formation of Amtrak in 1971 reduced service to the northbound and southbound Floridian train between Chicago and the St. Petersburg and Miami branches each day. When this service was discontinued in October 1979, the station was abandoned entirely. Much of its open spaces were roped off, and its architectural features became largely a habitat for pigeons for several years.
After it closed, the station fell into the custody of the United States Government's General Services Administration, which struggled for years to find a viable redevelopment plan as the station continued to decline. Nashville locals continuously rejected plans that did not include retaining the main terminal building.
The site remained vacant until 1986 when a group of investors worked together to turn it into a luxury hotel with 125 luxury rooms and 12 suites. The hotel plan was based on the use of "junk bond" financing, and the interest payments were so high the hotel required 90% occupancy at an average room rate of $135 per night to break even. This was not a supportable business model in the 1980's Nashville hotel market, and the project soon went bankrupt, calling the future of the station into question again. However, a new investor group bought the hotel in bankruptcy and was able to operate profitably without charging exorbitant room rates or requiring such a high occupancy rate due to the lower cost basis.
More problematic was the effort to find a modern use for the massive trainshed adjacent to the terminal building. Said to be the largest of its kind in the world at the time and an engineering masterpiece, the structure continued to deteriorate. Several suggested plans, including one to raise it up to street level (from the cut level) and turn it into a farmers' market, never came to fruition. A fire damaged the structure in 1996, and it was eventually demolished in late 2000 after several years of failing to come up with a viable preservation plan.
Since the site's conversion to a hotel in 1986, Union Station has undergone several renovations. The first occurred in 2017 and cost $11 million. An additional $1.9 million of upgrades were made in 2012 when the hotel became a Marriott Autograph Collection hotel. In 2014, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust bought Union Station Hotel for $52.3 million and hired Gobbell Hays Partners, Inc., to design renovations that ultimately cost $15.5 million. Sage Hospitality operates the hotel for Pebblebrook.
Along with the adjoining trainshed, Union Station became a National Historic Landmark in 1976. However, its historical landmark status was withdrawn in 2003 due to the fire damage to the trainshed that occurred in 1996 and ultimately led to the demolition of that part of the property. Union Station remains on the National Register of Historic Places (listed in 1969) for its local relevance to the city of Nashville and the state of Tennessee.
The station is an example of late-Victorian Romanesque Revival architecture and has high towers and turrets that are reminiscent of a castle. The tower originally contained an early mechanical digital clock, but it was replaced by a traditional analog clock when replacement French silk drive belts became unavailable during World War I. The original bronze statue of the Roman god Mercury that sat on top of the tower was toppled in a storm in 1951 but was later replaced in the mid-1990s with a two-dimensional form painted in trompe l'oeil style to replicate the original. This second Mercury was destroyed in the 1998 downtown Nashville tornado but was also replaced.
The décor in the hotel includes elegant features like three crystal chandeliers, Italian marble floors, wrought iron accents, oak-accented doors, and three limestone fireplaces, along with a 65-foot, barrel-vaulted, stained glass lobby ceiling. The walls are covered with art, including numerous bas-relief sculptures. The two sculptures known as "Miss Nashville" and "Miss Louisville" are said to be images of two of the builder's daughters. Other bas-reliefs depict various historical modes of transportation. Some of the station's original tile remains in the hotel's bar and restaurant area.
The hotel is located on Broadway in the downtown area, near the popular honky tonks on Lower Broadway and the historic 2nd Avenue District. Frist Center for the Visual Arts is across the street, and the busy restaurant area known as The Gulch is a block away. Many popular downtown attractions are within walking distance, including the Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium, and Ascend Amphitheater.
Hotel rooms at Union Station are located on floors above and below the lobby, and none of them are exactly the same due to the conversion from train station to hotel. The upper floors have arched windows with views of the downtown area. The rooms below the lobby were converted from the space where passengers boarded the trains decades ago. Regardless of shape or size, the rooms all have a more modern look and feel than other parts of the interior, especially after the most recent $15.5 million renovation in 2016, which added features like ergonomic workstations, marble bathrooms, cowhide leather headboards, and commissioned art inspired by the city's music scene.
Adapted double and king rooms are available with wheelchair accessibility, roll-in showers, and other features designed for guests with disabilities. The number of connecting rooms is limited.
Amenities at the hotel range from common services like Wi-Fi, valet parking, and room service to luxury perks like laundry service, luggage storage, catering, and VIP and concierge services. Special business services include A/V setups and production and video conferencing. Board games are available in the lobby for free game play, and Pack 'n Plays are provided for small children at no cost. Riffs on the Rails takes place onsite every Thursday with live music from both known and up-and-coming performers. Pets are welcome at the hotel, but the associated cleaning fee is non-refundable.
The onsite restaurant in the hotel, Carter's, is named after a popular former employee at the station, Gladys "Happy" Carter. It serves mainly contemporary dishes with local southern influences. The hotel partners with Jack Daniel's and has its own signature whiskey label, Union Station Jack Daniel's, as well as a selection of local craft beers.
Union Station Hotel has been the focus of ghost stories and rumors for many years. Although hotel executives insist the tales are simply a marketing ploy for ghost tour companies, many guests and staff members have commented on strange noises and sights in the hotel, particularly related to room 711. Most of the stories involve a girl named Abigail, who supposedly killed herself by jumping in front of a train at the station after learning her boyfriend had been killed in World War II. Room 711 is decorated in a 1940's vintage style chosen especially for Abigail.