#TBT: 31 old photos of Orlando's Church Street Station when it was a huge tourist attraction

Believe it or not, there was a time in the not-too-distant past when downtown Orlando was indeed a tourist destination right up there with the Mouse and SeaWorld. That was when Church Street Station, the now-defunct nightclub/entertainment complex was still in operation. Opened in 1974 by Pensacola entrepreneur Bob Snow, the space housed a number of businesses in a Dixieland Jazz Era-themed complex. The place contained five showrooms that offered live jazz, blues, country and Top 40 music, as well as retail stores, a midway and restaurants. In 1985, Church Street Station and the attached Church Street Exchange attracted more than 1.7 million visitors, making it the fourth-largest tourist attraction in Florida, after Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens.

By the end of the '80s, Snow had divested himself of his interests in Church Street Station, and in 1994, the new owners expanded it significantly. But by the 1990s, Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando perfected their own downtown entertainment districts, which drew business away from Church Street. The crowds slowed down and despite the popularity of newer attractions brought to the complex, such as Terror on Church Street, by 2001 most of the businesses that were part of Church Street Station were failing or closed. By 2002, Lou Pearlman purchased Church Street Station, which later passed into the hands of developer Cameron Kuhn, who bought it out of bankruptcy. Kuhn himself lost the property in 2009, when it was foreclosed.

These days, Church Street Station's most notable rooms, the Cheyenne Saloon and the Orchid Garden Ballroom, are available for private functions. On March 26, Orlando Weekly holds its annual Great Orlando Mixer in the Cheyenne (tickets are on sale now, get them while you can), and later in the year, we'll use the Orchid Garden to host our Bite Night.

For now, though, here's a look back at the Church Street Station that once was ...

Related: 89 spiffy shots from the Great Orlando Mixer

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Way back when, Church Street Station was an actual train station. It was called the Old Orlando Railroad Depot, and it operated as a passenger station until 1926, when passenger trains were diverted to the Orlando Amtrak station in south Orlando. Photo via Florida Memory.
Way back when, Church Street Station was an actual train station. It was called the Old Orlando Railroad Depot, and it operated as a passenger station until 1926, when passenger trains were diverted to the Orlando Amtrak station in south Orlando. Photo via Florida Memory.
Just before it was redeveloped in the 1970s, Church Street Station was vacant and neglected. Photo via Orlandoretro.com
Just before it was redeveloped in the 1970s, Church Street Station was vacant and neglected. Photo via Orlandoretro.com
But in 1974, Bob Snow purchased the old train station and turned it into the Church Street Station Nightlife complex, which featured live music, dance clubs and eateries. In the evenings, the party spilled out onto the street. Photo via Florida Memory.
But in 1974, Bob Snow purchased the old train station and turned it into the Church Street Station Nightlife complex, which featured live music, dance clubs and eateries. In the evenings, the party spilled out onto the street. Photo via Florida Memory.
It was a hotspot in downtown Orlando. Some of the businesses inside included Rosie O'Grady's, Phineas Phogg's Balloon Works, Commander Ragtime's Midway of Fun, the Cheyenne Opera House and Apple Annie's Victorian Courtyard. Photo via Florida Memory.
It was a hotspot in downtown Orlando. Some of the businesses inside included Rosie O'Grady's, Phineas Phogg's Balloon Works, Commander Ragtime's Midway of Fun, the Cheyenne Opera House and Apple Annie's Victorian Courtyard. Photo via Florida Memory.
At Church Street Station, you could sip frozen drinks and cocktails in Apple Annie's Victorian Courtyard. Photo via Orlandomemory.info
At Church Street Station, you could sip frozen drinks and cocktails in Apple Annie's Victorian Courtyard. Photo via Orlandomemory.info
#TBT: 31 old photos of Orlando's Church Street Station when it was a huge tourist attraction
You could watch can can girls dance at Rosie O'Grady's. Photo via Florida Memory.
You could watch can can girls dance at Rosie O'Grady's. Photo via Florida Memory.
At the Cheyenne Opera House, you could see dancers and live shows. Photo via Orlandomemory.info
At the Cheyenne Opera House, you could see dancers and live shows. Photo via Orlandomemory.info
A view from the balcony of the Orchid Garden ballroom. Photo via Florida Memory.
A view from the balcony of the Orchid Garden ballroom. Photo via Florida Memory.
You could dance the night away at Phineas Phogg's Balloon Works. Photo via Florida Memory.
You could dance the night away at Phineas Phogg's Balloon Works. Photo via Florida Memory.
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