Union Station anniversary shines a spotlight on little-known architect

Union Station will celebrates its 75th anniversary on Saturday, shining a spotlight on John B. Parksinson, inset, its architect.
(Union Station photo by Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times; Parkinson photo, Angel City Press)

As Union Station prepares to celebrate its 75thanniversary on Saturday, attention should turn to its British-born architect.

Know his name? Few do. It’s John B. Parkinson, whose works are sprinkled around Los Angeles. Like many passengers who have arrived here over the decades, he came to then-small Los Angeles in 1894 broke and with few prospects but big ideas.

He found his way and eventually was behind the city’s first high-rise, the Braly Building (now the Continental), the Homer Laughlin Building (home of Grand Central Market), Bullocks Wilshire, parts of USC and some early renovations in Pershing Square.

He also collaborated on the movie-friendly City Hall and then with his son Donald, who joined the firm in 1920. Together they created the Memorial Coliseum and Union Station, which became known as “the last great of the great railways stations.”

John Parkinson died in 1935 before Union Station was completed.


This week Councilmen José Huizar and Tom LaBonge and several of Parkinson’s great-grandchildren attended a dedication ceremony that named the intersection of 5th and Spring Streets “John Parkinson Square.”

Stephen Gee, author of “Iconic Vision,” a book about Parkinson’s work, attributes this anonymity to a postwar academic obsession with modernism and the fact that he and his son died by 1945.

But Parkinson’s work is hardly anonymous; Union Station, for instance, has been the backdrop on the small and big screen, notably in “Blade Runner” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”

The Saturday Union Station celebration includes a re-dedication ceremony at 10 a.m., self-guided art tours, model trains, music, and plenty of Amtrak and glamorous historic trains and vehicles for the kids and adults to enjoy. You can also take a free trip to the classic Glendale Southern Pacific Railroad Station.

Info: Union Station 75th anniversary, 800 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles