Then and now: Pierpont’s at Union Station was once a ladies-only waiting room

On the east side of Union Station, ladies could wait in comfort, away from the prying eyes of traveling salesmen.
On the east side of Union Station, ladies could wait in comfort, away from the prying eyes of traveling salesmen. Fred Harvey Collection photographs, Special Collections, University of Arizona Library

When Kansas City’s Union Station opened in 1914, it had all the modern conveniences.

For ladies on the go, this meant a decorous waiting area, out of sight of leering traveling salesmen. Its “special retiring room” with toilets, couches and even bathtubs was overseen by Anna Nearing, station matron.

The women depicted in this photo wear dark traveling clothes to foil the pervasive locomotive soot, although any little boys in starched whites surely ended up as grubby disasters.

Today, these rooms with their Vermont marble are home to Pierpont’s, a seafood and steak restaurant that opened in 1996 after the monumental rescue and restoration of the great train terminal.

Large waiting facilities were necessary in Midwestern cities, with their many cross-country connections and less-frequent arrival and departure times.

Thus, the vast North Waiting Room with its ranks of wooden benches was designed for 1,500 passengers by architect Jarvis Hunt.

Over on the west side of the great clock were the men’s toilets, barbershop, shoe shiners and a smoking lounge (now the Jarvis Hunt Room) not far from the cigar stand. Considering that Kansas outlawed cigarette sales until 1927, westbound nicotine addicts were well advised to stock up before boarding

It isn’t clear just when the women’s downstairs restroom was designated as the women’s smoking room, to the dismay of the puritanical set. When a few years later a woman lit up on a train’s smoking car, traditionally a male bastion, an East Coast journalist wrote, “It was like making love at a funeral — distinctly inappropriate.”

Food service then was found farther south along the east wall in the Fred Harvey company’s lunch counter (the Westport Room, so named for its murals) and more formal restaurant.

But it was the former women’s spaces that were adapted in 1976 for Ralph Gaines’ Lobster Pot. Four years later, under the direction of his son, the late Robert Gaines, the family’s earlier established Colony Steakhouse moved in. Robert’s wife, Shanette Kirch, recalls how the ladies’ bathtubs were enlisted for the salad bar. The restaurants left the historic edifice in 1989.

Once the larger-than-life beaux-arts-style station was restored in 1996, Pierpont’s moved in with its own lobsters and cuts of beef. The owners, who operate the Hereford House chain, originally considered the name Union Pacific Grill but settled on the less locomotive middle moniker of Wall Street titan J.P. Morgan.