El Paso, TX (ELP)
Designed by famed Chicago architect Daniel Burnham and completed in 1906, the building features large Diocletian windows that allow sunlight to flood the waiting room.
700 West San Francisco Avenue
El Paso, TX 79901
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 14,584
- Facility Ownership: City of El Paso
- Parking Lot Ownership: City of El Paso, Union Pacific Railroad
- Platform Ownership: City of El Paso
- Track Ownership: City of El Paso
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
Rail passengers at El Paso are greeted by sunlight as it streams through the large Diocletian or “thermal” windows which ring the upper level of Union Depot’s central waiting room. At three stories high, this public space is a grand introduction to the city of El Paso, and features a patterned marble floor, pillars and pilasters, and a second story gallery.
Seven companies, including the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe (ATSF) and the Texas and Pacific each had stations scattered throughout El Paso by 1902. This led to confusion and traffic when passengers needed to transfer from one line to another. Calls for a “union” station to unite all the rail services in one building became strong.
A building fund was initiated in 1899 with a donation of $500; two years later this was taken over by a Terminal Association, charged with promoting a new union station. In 1903, famed Chicago architect and city planner Daniel Burnham was awarded the contract for the new structure, which was completed by 1906.
Constructed in red brick, the new Union Depot was designed primarily in the neoclassical style, a Burnham trademark. A large porch with grouped pillars and arched openings welcomed visitors. Balance and symmetry were important in the overall composition, as well as the use of classical elements such as pillars, quoins, balustrades, and elaborate cornices. The station featured a six story bell tower topped with a tall spire, reminiscent of older Victorian rail depots. The total cost for the structure was $260,000, and on opening night in February 1906, more than 10,000 persons arrived to admire downtown’s new landmark.
In addition to seeing dozens of trains pass through every day, the depot’s second floor featured a Harvey House restaurant, part of a famous chain of eateries associated with the ATSF. Known for gracious service and fine meals, the dining room was at the top of the city’s culinary scene, remembered fondly for the lobster and raw oysters shipped by rail. Interestingly, the El Paso Depot was America’s first international rail station, as Mexico Central trains crossed the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. By uniting all of the rail lines in one central structure, downtown witnessed the construction of numerous hotels, banks, and other businesses positioned to benefit from proximity to the transportation hub.
The Mexican Revolution of 1910-20 saw intense fighting in Ciudad Juarez. El Paso became a safe haven for refugees and exiled political leaders. It is said that Mexican revolutionary war general Pancho Villa used Union Depot’s bell tower as a lookout position during an attack on Ciudad Juarez. At this time, Villa was actively sought by Gen. John J. Pershing, based at nearby Ft. Bliss, for his cross border raids into New Mexico.
By the 1940s, the popular appeal of Southwestern architecture had taken hold in El Paso, and a women’s group advocated for the remodeling of the station in a “regionally appropriate” style. Subsequently, the bell tower’s steeple was removed; the red brick was covered with cream colored stucco; the roof was recovered in red tiles; and the surrounding iron fence was replaced with an adobe wall. It was this version of the building that would welcome Elvis Presley in 1958.
Losing passengers after the mid-twentieth century, the depot was shuttered in 1974 and put up for sale the next year. In response to abandonment, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, highlighting its importance to the community. In time, the city decided to purchase the structure for $925,000 to house its local transit system, Sun Metro. Using federal, state, and local grants, Mayor Ray Salazar’s administration funded a restoration that began in 1982. Paint was removed from the brick, the tower’s spire was rebuilt, woodwork was cleaned, and marble imported from Italy was used to reface the wainscoting of the waiting room.
Recently, as part of a redevelopment plan for downtown El Paso, Union Depot has been envisioned as not only home to Amtrak, but also for consolidated intercity bus services, local bus rapid transit, and perhaps even a future light rail network. Over a century after it opened, Union Depot seems poised to once again be an important downtown hub welcoming all El Pasoans.
The area around El Paso was populated for thousands of years by Native Americans currently known as the Jornada Mogollon. Remnants of their semi-nomadic lifestyle, which included limited agriculture, can be viewed at Hueco Tanks State Historic Site northeast of the city. This mountainous area still holds spiritual value for many regional Native Americans, and the visitor will find pictographs depicting the interests and concerns of the former inhabitants. By 1400, the Apache tribe moved south and in time dominated the area, until they too were threatened by the Comanches, a Native American group that would also harass Spanish settlements in what is now northern Mexico. The trail they established from the buffalo hunting grounds of Oklahoma, Kansas, and the Texas Panhandle to Mexico came to bear their name.
The first European to visit the site of present day El Paso was Spanish explorer Don Juan de Onate, who in 1598 celebrated a mass of thanksgiving upon reaching the waters of the Rio Grande River. The area south of the river was settled by Spanish colonists in 1659 due to the discovery of a natural ford. The Spanish community was primarily agricultural, and located on the Camino Real that connected Mexico City and Santa Fe.
After the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, the lands north of the Rio Grande became American territory and in 1859 the town of El Paso was platted. An agricultural area, the town did not see large growth until the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) in 1881. As a typical Western boomtown, it quickly gained a reputation for its rough way of life, earning the nickname, “Six Shooter Capital.”
Today, El Paso is bracing for a population boom, as Ft. Bliss is expected to receive 30,000 additional troops, along with their families. Expanded after World War II, Ft. Bliss is one of the largest military posts in the continental United States and home to the Army’s Air Defense Artillery Center. Manufacturing such as food production, clothing, electronic and medical equipment, and plastics also constitute a large part of the city’s economy, as does international trade with neighboring Mexico—El Paso and Ciudad Juarez form the largest metropolitan area on the U.S.-Mexico border.
One of El Paso’s most memorable images might be the star which sits upon the south side of the Franklin Mountains, which rise through the heart of the city. Erected in 1940 by the local electric company, it was for decades only lighted at Christmas, but since 1993, it has shone brightly almost every night of the year. Composed of 459 lights in a configuration that is 459 feet by 278 feet, the star is visible from 100 miles in the air and 30 miles at the ground. It continues to welcome home all El Pasoans, as well as guide the way for new arrivals.
Amtrak provides ticketing and baggage services at this facility. El Paso is served by the tri-weekly Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle (Westbound: Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday; Eastbound: Monday, Thursday, Saturday).
- 5 Short Term Parking Spaces
- Accessible Platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Ticket Office
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Accessible Water Fountain
- Baggage Storage
- Bike Boxes
- Checked Baggage
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- Help With Luggage
- Shipping Boxes
- Ticket Office
- Wheelchair Lift