This week’s featured Nashville landmark in our ADoor Nashville blog series is Union Station Hotel. Union Station has such an interesting history that we cannot wait to share with you, so, without further adieu… read on!
Union Station was originally constructed to be a rail ford terminal. It opened in 1900 to serve the passenger operations of the eight railroads that, at that time, provided service to Nashville. The station was built just to the west of downtown Nashville.
Union Station proudly displays its original build style, a Victorian Romanesque Rivival architectural style, with a tower that was originally topped by a bronze statue of the Roman god mercy (which was damaged in a storm in 1951). The tower first contained an early mechanical clock, but when replacement parts were unavailable during World War I, it was replaced by an analog clock.
Peak use of the station happened during World War II, when it was used as a shipping-out point for thousands of U.S. troops. Its decline began shortly after this time, as passenger rail service in the U.S. went into general decline. By the 60s, it was only served by a few trains a day. The formation of Amtrak in 1971 reduced its services further, and when the Amtrak service was discontinued in late 1979, the station was nearly completely abandoned.
It was during this time that the station fell into the custodial hands of the U.S. Government’s General Services Administration, which struggled for quite some time to find a viable redevelopment plan as the station continued to deteriorate. Its placement on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 gave it tremendous sentimental appeal to many Nashvillians, who insisted that any redevelopment plans involve the retention of the main terminal building. Finally, during the early 1980s, a group of investors came forth with plans to finance the renovation of the station into a luxury hotel. The redevelopment was approval and the project began.
Before long, unfortunately, the project was thought to be bankrupt. Because the hotel plan was based around the use of a faulty financing, the interest payments required were so high that the hotel would require 90 percent occupancy at all times at an average room rate of $135 per night to merely break even. Such rates and occupancy were not supportable in the 80s in Nashville’s hotel market; many feared the project was doomed. Fortunately, this was not the case and the new investors were able to operate it profitably, for lower room rates per night, and at a lower occupancy rate.
The train shed adjacent to the terminal where the passengers met the trains became a problem area, tough to modernize as time went on. The structure, which was said to be the largest of its kind in the world and an engineering masterpiece, continued to deteriorate over the years as its fate was determined. Plans including raising it up to the level of the surrounding street and making it into a farmers’ market never came to be. A fire in 2000 damaged the structure so badly that it was shortly thereafter demolished after careful recording of its original design.
Today, the Union Station Hotel continues to be a prominent historic landmark in Middle Tennessee. It underwent an $11 million renovation in 2007 and was rededicated after its completion, boasting proudly that it is an inspired choice when visiting Music City, a place to “connect with the elegance of the past while enjoying the luxury of the present, showing exquisite architecture, historic Southern charm, and first class service.”