The future of Kansas City's Union Station may be up in the air, but there's no doubt at all about its past, as curators and archivists at Kansas University's Kansas Collection can attest.
The Kansas City Terminal Railway Co., owner of the now-closed Union Station, has donated all of the photographic and paper documentation of the station and the surrounding complex of viaducts and tracks to the Kansas Collection, which is housed in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. The Kansas Collection staff is now working to preserve and catalog the materials for public research.
The fate of the station itself is undetermined today, according to George Thompson, president and general manager of KCTR, and any new development plans are delayed pending settlement of a lawsuit filed by the city of Kansas City against KCTR and three other defendants over rehabilitation of the building.
By city ordinance, though, Thompson added, the station, which was closed to train travelers in 1983 and boarded up in February 1989, is protected from being torn down for at least the next 18 months. Thompson said he hopes that eventually the station will be spared such an end.
MATERIALS on the station that have come to KU to date include more than 1,500 photographs, as well as fragile glass and silver nitrate negatives, 65 cubic-foot boxes of paper documents covering every aspect of the station's construction and operation and, just recently received, many of the original linen architectural drawings of the facility.
"This is an incredibly detailed collection," said Sheryl Williams, Kansas Collection curator.
"We're really lucky to have the amount of material we have. It's exciting and current," said Nicolette Bromberg, Kansas Collection photo archivist.
Construction of the station complex, which consolidated the early-day operations of a number of smaller railroad stations in Kansas City, began in 1910 and was finished in 1914, Bromberg said.
KANSAS CITY Terminal Railway Co. authorized intensive documentation of the construction process, including numerous photographs of the area before construction began and panoramic views of the construction in progress.
Bromberg said the photos show that in order to build the complex, workmen had to dig out the whole Pershing Road site, through which the OK Creek once flowed, and build the network of viaducts to carry other vehicles over the tracks.
"It's great construction history," Bromberg said, noting that all the photographs are dated and sequences of sites were systematically rephotographed at intervals to track progress.
The contractor was the George A. Fuller Construction Co. of Kansas City, Bromberg said. That company's records are now housed at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.
FOUR LARGE albums in the Union Station collection were probably put together for company officials as progress reports, she said, and one older album, with cloth pages, is packed with photographs that appear to show the area as it was before construction began.
With a city directory and a map drawn by the Chicago-based Sanborn Map Co., which provided maps for fire insurance purposes, Bromberg said that a researcher could use clues in the pre-construction photographs to establish exact locations of the scenes.
Also among the early photos are interior shots of the station some with workers perched atop huge scaffolding, dwarfing other workers on the ground.
UNION STATION is regarded as the second largest train station in the country, behind New York's Grand Central Station.
After Union Station opened, the Kansas City Terminal Railway Co. continued to document operations, Bromberg said, although not as intensively as during the construction process.
Many of the later photographs, which date to the 1950s, may have been taken for insurance purposes, she noted. Some show accident scenes on the tracks; others aspects of the station's interior. There also are photographs of the Harvey House restaurant that operated there for a time, railway post office cars, the station's private heating plant and even the bathrooms.
A number of aerials, which also show Kansas City's changing skyline, were taken in the 1930s by a flying service, she said.
AMONG THE paper records, Bromberg added, is documentation that Union Station once housed a hospital, but there are no photographs of it.
Bromberg said the Union Station materials came to KU because of concern for their preservation on the part of George W. Thompson, president and general manager of the Kansas City Terminal Railway Co.
Thompson explained that the station's early-day documents had been scattered throughout the company's offices in Union Station, but when the company moved from that building in January 1986 to offices at 3435 Broadway, much of the material was collected.
"We did know we had a lot of photographs around," he said, "and subsequently found a great number of negatives, too."
Thompson said that a Kansas City-area freelance photographer, Yvonne Ellsworth, noted the deteriorating condition of the valuable old nitrate negatives and recommended KU's photographic archives as the best in the Midwest.
KU'S BROMBERG subsequently discussed with Thompson the condition of the negatives, what technical steps needed to be taken to save them and told him KU was interested in the collection.
Later in 1986, KU received the photographs and negatives, and Thompson said the board of directors of the Kansas City Terminal Railway Co., owned by the seven major railroads that serve Kansas City, also provided a $10,000 grant so that new prints could be made from the fragile negatives, which were preserved to the extent possible.
Bromberg said that since those materials arrived, the grant-funded work has been completed and the photographs are now inventoried, cataloged, cross-indexed and stored in acid-free boxes.
ONCE THE photographs and negatives went to KU, Thompson said, KCTR officials began to realize they had a lot of other records that were obsolete for their working needs but of historical significance.
"They (Kansas Collection staffers) were delighted to get those," Thompson said, "and we cleaned out our storage space."
In the past year, many of Chicago architect Jarvis Hunt's original renderings of the station were stolen from the company's offices, and so recently, every original drawing of the station that could still be found was gathered up and taken to KU, too.
Williams, the Kansas Collection's curator, noted that the rolled drawings, which measure more than six feet in length, eventually will lie flat, in folders "That's what really needs to be done."
She added that more material on the station now being used by the KCTR eventually will come to KU, and that all the paper documents must be inventoried, catalogued and placed in acid-free folders, just like the photographs.
THE ENTIRE collection also will be listed on a nationwide database of cataloguing information and reported to the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, which is used by researchers to locate information.
Williams said that one of the collection's values is the opportunity it provides people from many different fields to use the same materials in many different ways. Bromberg said that two people working on books already are using them.
Williams said she thought the fact that the Kansas Collection is an established regional history collection with a strong photographic component influenced Thompson's decision to place the materials here.
She also noted there aren't many facilities in the region with the kind of environmental controls that the Kansas Collection has. The temperature there is a constant 70 degrees, and humidity a constant 50 percent, with continual monitoring.