Just as eastern cities are built–out from transportation hubs of river and ocean ports , the west had rail. The former Union Plaza, named after the Union Station once on the site, was renamed to the Plaza in 2011. There’s a fragment of building heritage still up; an abandoned mural in a dark corridor to an abandoned station site.
The acrylic mural sits in its own gloom along the ramp-like connector between the hotel lobby and the boarding platform at the rear, a former Amtrak station. The only light is a single small chandelier and sun from an open door.
The mural was painted in the early 1980s as a brand booster for the Desert Wind, the 811-mile Amtrak route that used Las Vegas as a major stop between Los Angeles, California, and Ogden, Utah between October 1979 and May 1997.
A brief 1984 Los Angeles Times article ran the headline “Union Plaza mural shows railroad from 19th Century into the future” and reported the mural was painted on three panels by “Sylvester Collier, art teacher at Cannon Junior High, Laura Chambers, art teacher at Robison Junior High and Paul Collier, an art major at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.” The mural is signed by S. Collier and Laura Chambers and dated 1983.
The piece presents the past, present and future of rail in the southwest circa early 1980s. From right to left, it begins with a 19th century steam locomotives crossing empty desert land. The second section has the southwest states in the background of the centerpiece Amtrak train. The third part is a futuristic Las Vegas with a monorail heading toward Union Plaza. The colors of Amtrak wings sweep through the work, and skyline silhouettes include Vegas Vic (now trapped by the metal canopy of the Fremont Experience). There’s also the sign from the Dunes, and the tower of the Landmark Hotel, two casinos that were shuttered and have since said goodbye to the Strip with implosions.
There’s no image of the two former train depots that were once the site, a 1905 Spanish Colonial design, which was replaced by a Streamline Moderne depot in the 1940s. That was razed for Union Plaza in 1970.
With no room or reason to use that space to expand a lobby, or stick in a row of slot machines, the mural being hidden away is what may have saved it. Websites with chatter by railroad enthusiasts reveal fondness for the work, and are giddy on how the station was essentially part of the casino. Now there are new calls to revive studies for the route to reopen after attempts for new service have their federal funding flounder.
There are no new plans for a depot that left behind a mural.
Donna Beam Gallery
Through October 26, 2018
FOUNDER + WRITER
G. James Daichendt