To celebrate the holidays, Union Station decks its halls

Union Station is feeling the holiday spirit this year with a festive décor reflecting the mood of “Miracle on 34th Street,” the Hollywood classic starring a young Natalie Wood learning to believe in Santa Claus.

The theme is part of an ongoing holiday season upgrade at Union Station over the past three years. The soaring Grand Hall is festooned with garland and bows, 25-foot-wide wreaths in the windows and a 30-foot tree towering over its polished floor.

The nostalgic atmosphere is boosted by the return of the former Jones Store holiday train (called the Holiday Spirit Train), which began transporting happy children in the 1940s, and an exhibit of old photos and artifacts illustrating how Kansas Citians have celebrated Christmas over the years.

“It’s all free and it’s indoors,” said George Guastello, Union Station president and CEO. “We get a real cross-section of generations, grandparents telling their grandchildren about how they used to come there to take the train.”

On Saturday, hungry visitors were treated to a holiday pancake breakfast that included a special guest, the Cat in the Hat, a Dr. Seuss character featured in a PBS series broadcast on KCPT. The Holiday Express, a five-car train operated by Kansas City Southern, will bring Santa Claus to the station Dec. 14-16.

Guastello said families can file by a 8,000-square-foot model train display at the end of the concourse and then comfortably step outside to visit the Holiday Express train.

A change was made from last year’s setup so visitors don’t stand in the cold. The Holiday Express drew more than 15,000 people last year, Guastello said.

Other holiday trim includes 24 additional Christmas trees and 90 stars and snowflakes suspended from the ceiling in Sprint Festival Plaza.

The holiday mood cheers local residents and visitors alike.

Now that Union Station is home to the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and the Kansas City Area Development Council, it gets plenty of traffic from businesspeople and officials visiting the city.

“Those tenants are thrilled,” Guastello said. “When they bring in people from all over the world, they see something that looks like Macy’s in 1942 and all the model trains. We want it to be like ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ ”