Kern Old Town Train Depot Tour Inspires Hope to Preserve Historic Building | News

When the South Pacific Railroad Station was built at Baker and Sumner streets in the late 1880s, America was well into what would later become known as the Gilded Age, a period of rapid economic growth and of complex social problems, of ostentatious and abject wealth. poverty.

Some 133 years later, the building’s original Richardsonian Romanesque brick architecture has been repeatedly altered, remodeled and plastered over until it has become almost unrecognizable from what it once was.

The old depot last saw passenger service in 1971, and the station which once boasted a large restaurant downstairs and overnight accommodation upstairs has slowly become shadow of itself.

Architecture advocates and the city of Bakersfield fear the historic station — now owned by Union Pacific — is in danger of being demolished.

But Bakersfield Councilman Andrae Gonzales, whose Ward 2 includes the depot and its surrounding business district, has pledged to stop that from happening – as have local conservative groups, supporters and promoters of the downtown and old town corridors, and others who believe the depot is a valuable part of the city’s historical and cultural heritage.

Even Jean-Guy Dube, architectural historian, author and lecturer in Santa Barbara, pleads for the preservation of the building. Dube has researched South Pacific deposits since 1983 and is a member of the Southern Pacific Historical Technical Society.

“This is a rare case where this building could be saved through community effort and coordination between the Union Pacific Railroad, which now owns the depot, and the City of Bakersfield, which temporarily leases the depot. , hoping to renovate it,” Dube said. .

This is an opportunity for the residents of Bakersfield to step in, possibly with the help of state or federal grants, to turn the abandoned depot into a performance venue.

“With proper security, this could be a real asset to revitalizing this part of Bakersfield,” Dube said.

On a recent tour of the station organized by Gonzales and led by Dube and longtime architectural curator Stephen Montgomery, visitors got a rare glimpse inside the depot.

Montgomery said the value of the deposit goes well beyond dollars and cents.

“In 1941 they did a remodel to try to make it look more like Mission Revival style,” Montgomery said. “It’s part of the misconception that buildings need to be renovated.”

The repository has actually undergone multiple changes over the decades since its inception, circa 1889, making it more than half the age of the nation itself.

But all that remodeling, all that stucco coating on the exterior, means it would be difficult — and expensive — to return the depot to its original architectural style, Montgomery said.

But even a purist like Montgomery recognizes that some of the renovations over the resort’s 133-year life were necessary.

“There were originally separate waiting rooms for men and women,” he said of cultural norms that over the years have become obsolete.

Heather Laganelli, owner of the Locale Farm To Table restaurant and board member of the Hub of Bakersfield, said the nonprofit’s board members are passionate about preserving the historic repository.

“We had a board meeting a while ago and we’ve been on the train to save Sumner Station for a while now, and we just don’t want to see it go away,” she said. declared. “It would be great to breathe some life into this corner.”

Jeff Johnson, a business consultant who volunteers as a member of the Save the Sumner Station task force, also joined the tour.

“We’re setting up an account for people who want to get involved in backing up the repository,” he said. “A lot of people in Bakersfield wanted to do something, but didn’t know how to get involved.”

Councilor Gonzales said he believed the depot could once again become an economic engine in the old town of Kern.

“The reason I know this is because we’ve seen it in so many other communities,” he said. “There are examples of communities that cared enough to invest in their historic buildings and not just tear them down and tear them down, but to really invest in their buildings. And they’ve been rewarded for it.”

Many tour participants were surprised to learn that the depot was built by South Pacific not only as a passenger station, but also as a combined depot and hotel.

The first floor of the hotel portion of the building housed a dining room and lunch counter, and had kitchen facilities, a pantry and more, Dube said. The second floor above the restaurant offered hotel rooms where guests could stay in relative comfort.

The dining establishment was operated by JH Tolfree, who founded other restaurants along the South Pacific line – including at the Saugus and Mojave depots – until his untimely death in January 1897 at the hotel of Mojave, just months after his wife killed herself. in the same establishment.

After Tolfree’s death, the east wing of the depot was converted into offices for the railroad.

“The passenger side of the depot had separate waiting rooms for ladies and gentlemen,” Dube said. “As originally, it was a story.”

In 1894, a second floor was added to the passenger wing for train dispatchers and other employees.

“Looking at the depot today, of course, it’s undergone a dramatic transformation,” Dube said. “The railroad, beginning in the 1920s and 1930s, embarked on a campaign to modernize its old timber and brick depots.”

This usually meant removing all Victorian details to streamline their appearance. This happened in Bakersfield in 1941, when the original turrets and columns were removed and stucco was used to cover the brick construction of the depot.

A similar remodel was done at the old Security Trust Bank on 18th Street and Chester Avenue in downtown Bakersfield. This historic building, which was also due to be demolished, was finally saved, its stucco coating removed. It now operates as The 18hundred restaurant.

Despite the railroad’s determination to smooth and erase the golden age history of the depot, many details remain, Dube said. For example, much of the original open arcade around the passenger side of the depot is still visible.

“It’s radically transformed,” Dube said of the drop-off, “although you can still feel that open space” people experienced while waiting under the shaded archway outside.

As two groups of visitors were guided through the depot tour – Union Pacific moved out of the old building into its new communications center – they were greeted with an interior that no longer resembles the train station. yesteryear.

Only a few depots remain that were built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, Dube said. The Bakersfield depot is an example not to be missed.

“Many repositories have experienced adaptive reuse over their lifetime,” he said.

They have been transformed into restaurants, business offices, breweries, business incubators and more.

“It’s definitely recoverable,” he said of the filing. “In an ideal world, it would be wonderful to restore it to its original brick-built Richardsonian Romanesque appearance, which would enhance its historic value, not only to the community of Bakersfield, but also to this area of ​​California – because there is no Not many of these grand, brick Richardsonian buildings have survived.

“Heritage tourism,” Dube said, has the potential to bring additional visitors to the community.

“A depot is the perfect example of how you can use heritage tourism to bring tourism and the economy back to a downtown that has fallen on hard times.”

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

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