214 E. 4th Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota

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Saint Paul Union Depot

Address: 214 4th Street
Neighborhood/s: Downtown, Saint Paul, Minnesota
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Ramsey County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1923
Primary Style: Neoclassical
Historic Function: Rail-related, including depots
Current Function: Apartments/condominiums
Current Function: Transportation hub
Other Current Function: Transportation hub
Architect or source of design: Charles S. Frost
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Limestone
Material of Roof: Iron

Downtown Saint Paul Ramsey County

214 E. 4th Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota
(44.9480967° N, 93.0869829° WLatitude: 44°56′53.148″N
Longitude: 93°5′13.138″W

Construction of the Saint Paul Union Depot was begun in 1917, but WWI delayed completion of the project till 1923. At its peak, 280 passenger trains a day served the depot; the last train left the station in 1971. The Post Office had continued to use the concourse for shipping and receiving, while the building has also contained condominiums and restaurants. However, in January 2011 a $243 million project was launched with the vision of returning the Union Depot to its former glory as a major hub of transportation by the end of 2012.



Building Description

The St. Paul Union Depot was designed by the architect Charles S. Frost. Frost was a Chicago architect with offices in St. Paul. The Toltz Engineering Company acted as the structural engineers for the project. Building materials include Bedford stone and brick, with a steel frame superstructure. The Neo-classical building consists of a large central section and primarily features an unadorned Doric colonnade that is faced in Bedford Stone. The adjoining wings at each end continue this colonnade effect, though unlike the free-standing columns in the main portion of the building, the wings have pilasters – slightly projecting flat columns. The concourse exterior is faced with common cream brick. The interior of the building utilizes semi-polished Tennessee Travertine and a large skylight which although it has been roofed, continues to be the dominant feature of the space.[1]

African American heritage

The Union Depot is a significant landmark in the story of African American migration and employment in St. Paul and Minnesota. Although black workers were often confined to menial roles, the industry provided opportunities to educated African Americans particularly the occupation of Pullman porters. "Regardless of job status, black station employees were important ambassadors. They were often the first friendly face for a new arrival, and their networks of information about where to find shelter and a good meal were invaluable."[1]

At the Union Depot, Black Pullman Porters or 'Red Caps' would hand out cards to new African American arrivals and send them on to the Hall Barbershop in downtown St. Paul. The barbershop was owned and operated by the Hall Brothers and was a hub in the Black community for job referrals and services.[1]

Another important organization that formed around the railroad was the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union achieved many things for its members and negotiated gains such as hours of rest, vacation, and wages that when averaged by the number of hours worked were better than those of other occupations including firemen, conductors and engineers. It is no wonder then that Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union served as a model for black unions throughout the nation (McWatt, 2005). A key leader in organizing Saint Paul's union was Frank Boyd; Boyd’s lifetime of union activism began in St. Paul and the following has been said:

"The gains he helped secure had been more successful than any others in stabilizing and improving employment conditions, thereby helping create a black middle class in St. Paul. Many porters were able to send their children to college, thus contributing to the BSCP's national reputation for turning out more college graduates than any other black occupational group. Many of these graduates went on to form the backbone of NAACP chapters and later become black legislators who provided national leadership."[1]

Memories and stories


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