Photo of An original staircase with unusual puzzle-piece-shaped tiles, in the St. Paul, Minnesota Union Station

Weekly Gem #148 Take time to smell the rose(tte)s

Published 1/21/2018

Location:  This hidden gem is located at Kellogg and Sibley in St. Paul, MN (see the Clue Me! Map). 

The St.Paul Union Depot. Among the high rises and modern architecture, the Union Depot is a shining example of fine craftsmanship from yesteryear. Throughout the building, you can see the lost art of detail and craftsmanship that builders once included in their buildings. Craftsmen would proudly say, “I helped build that.”

If you walk out gate B from the waiting room, you'll see the puzzle-piece stairs, with blocks fit perfectly together. Just think of the time taken to create each step. There is only one of these rare staircases left, and you’re standing on it!

Look at the floor - it's made from beautiful pink Tennessee marble, large pieces perfectly fit together and perfectly flat.

Look at the ceiling - 793 plaster rosettes ... if you look carefully, you may find where a craftsman added a butterfly on just one of the rosettes. You'll see the original 100 year old windows and skylights ... these were covered by roofing tar to black them out during WWII ... which have been painstakingly cleaned so the building is once again flooded with natural light.

Then there is a terra cotta frieze running along the top of the wall. The frieze depicts the entire evolution of transportation, from the ox cart to the electric train. (When the depot was built, automobiles were unproven contraptions, and airplanes … not even on the radar.)

The waiting room itself is as big as a football field and along the walls are the original white oak track cabinets that showed people the arrivals and departures.

Timing is everything. The building was started in 1917, but then put on hold due to World War I. By the time they finished, the automobile was a proven contraption, and the Union Depot never did see the railroad traffic that was expected. But at least we have the building to appreciate.


Here's the hidden gem entry from our Clue Me! map.


It's a perfect fit!


An original staircase with unusual puzzle-piece-shaped tiles.

Why It's Interesting

This is the only remaining one of ten staircases that lead from the waiting room to the train deck. Originally this staircase was on the north end of the waiting room serving tracks one and two. It was moved in 2011 during the reconstruction of Union Depot. Now you can get to it by going out the (two) sets of doors from gate B.

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