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4/Sacramento's Dressy New/Old Station

I hereby divert temporarily from my novel writing saga to focus on another of my passions: transportation and historic preservation.


Last December 12th I took Amtrak (the subject of another blog) from Emeryville and joined my friend and former colleague, Melisa Gaudreau, in a tour of the newly rehabilitated Sacramento Valley

Station (SVS), completed in 2016. Melisa is the Director of the Sacramento office of the Restoration Architects, Page & Turnbull, part of a team of consultants, including ZGF Architects and ARUP. (P+T did the restoration of the Ferry Building in San Francisco). Also joining us was Gregory Taylor of the Sacramento Public Works Department, project lead for the City.

This is a stunning revitalization in every sense. The restoration of the grand historic mural at one end (below) is fabulous. It depicts the celebration of the groundbreaking for the First Transcontinental Railroad in Sacramento, held almost a century ago. The station, originally opened in 1926, has now regained its original character and its role as one of the busiest railroad stations in the nation.

The building was designed by Bliss & Faville, then at the creative peak of their career, and is a strong example of the Mediterranean Renaissance Revival style. Several fundamental improvements have been made to ticketing and circulation flow; numerous finishes and fixtures have been upgraded and vastly improved.

A Regional Hub

Once the pride of the Southern Pacific Railroad, the station was taken over in 1971 for Amtrak passenger operations. It has been rescued from years of disrepair and disuse through this $36 million restoration and stands as a key element in the larger transit district that will include Amtrak, buses, light rail, high speed rail, bicycle lanes, and street cars. Just on the edge of central Sacramento, the newly remodeled terminal includes various amenities, offices, and retail that will, over time, activate the 66,000 square foot property.

The station stands just adjacent to a 240-acre privately held and historically significant industrial district ("Sacramento Railyards," below) that, ultimately, will include commercial, residential, and cultural amenities in a series of historic rail shops, similar to the redevelopment of Pier 70 in San Francisco.

But, for the near future, the newly renovated terminal is isolated. The platform for the mainline tracks are now at such a distance that it is not a pleasant experience going from Point A (the platform) to Point B (the terminal). In fact, as in many Amtrak and Caltrain facilities, the passenger seems to get the short end of the stick.

Ultimately, in 15-20 years, the SVS will be replaced by a new station that will span the tracks (above); the older warehouses--"the shops"-- that are slated for renovation are just to the left of the tracks in the image above. New uses will have to be found for the historic SVS building as it struggles to help close the gap between the new transit district and Railyards project and central Sacramento (note the new arena at the lower right corner). But, it should be exciting to see the metamorphosis unfold over the years.

L. A.'s Union Station went through a renovation similar to SVS, but it too suffers from the lack of connectivity to the surrounding area and clear pathways from the terminal to the trackways. The MTA has currently been studying ways to rectify that. New studies are

afoot to build new tracks for high speed rail and an elevated concourse (above) over the rail yard.

Having just been to see the newly renovated Union Station in Denver (below) I was impressed to see the integration of the renovated station with adjacent development. it proves the point that the more the surrounding development can be tucked right up

against a major station, the

better the chance for success. The tighter the better. With the tracks coming in at grade in Denver, the transition over the tracks is made by way of stairs and an elevator (at right, showing mixed uses just adjacent). It's not perfect since freight traffic runs on tracks next to the passenger trains, but they have done a great job of connecting Downtown Denver with new development to the west across the South Platte River and the I25 Highway.

Since I hadn't ridden Amtrak in ages, a future blog will address that experience. Stay tuned.

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