Subject: San Bernardino Station / Amtrak info

The Press-Enterprise


Polishing a Jewel of a Depot

Restoration Revives San Bernardino's Sante Fe Station



Hard hat in place, John Gilliam strides across the dirt floor, over open trenches and past arched windows covered with plywood. Several sets of stairs later, he gazes out from a stately turret and can't hide the delight on his face as he considers the metamorphosis of San Bernardino's Santa Fe Depot.

"This is probably one of the jewel pieces of this line, one of the biggest in the Inland Empire," Gilliam said. "I love the challenges and I love the potential surprises this kind of project offers."

Stan Lim/The Press-Enterprise
Two construction workers continue to restore window frames at the Santa Fe Depot in San Bernardino.

The depot is undergoing a $13 million face-lift and is scheduled to open in February. The $13 million restoration, largely funded by the federal government, is set to be unveiled in late January or early February. Mayor Judith Valles and other officials hope the depot, like Riverside's Mission Inn, will help revive a wilting neighborhood.

"It's a key architectural building for the city that really tells the history and story of this town, which is a railroad town," Valles said. "It connects you to the past."

Hard at work Since November, as many as 100 workers a day have been installing new plumbing, restoring original tile work and wooden benches, and fixing windows and walls that have deteriorated since railroad traffic began to wane in the 1970s.

The months of work since the restoration's launch included hauling out trash, pigeon dung and about 300 pounds of honey left by bees in the attic, Gilliam said. Those stepping into the mission-style depot with its four Moorish turrets on San Bernardino's Westside next winter will see a historic black iron baggage weighing scale, bathroom stalls made of marble and the restored location of the Harvey House restaurant, complete with huge glass windows overlooking a garden.

"It will be modern, but it will be old at the same time," Gilliam said. "The goal of restoration is not to make the building appear new, but to make it functional."

Station transformation The station, built in 1918 and boasting about 57,400 square feet of usable space, Gilliam said, will embark upon a new role as host to tenants including Amtrak and San Bernardino Associated Governments, the county's transportation agency. Several engineering firms and a train hobby shop have expressed interest, said James Funk, the city's development services director, who also hopes to attract restaurants. Greyhound plans on moving to the depot after its lease on its North G Street location expires in 2009, said Kim Plaskett, company spokeswoman. The company is talking with the city to coordinate plans. Several regional bus lines converge at Santa Fe, along with Metrolink and Amtrak.

SANBAG, which owns the depot, will share ownership with the city, said spokeswoman Cheryl Donahue. The agencies are negotiating tenant and property management, maintenance and other issues. The transportation agency expects to move to the depot by June. Its new home on the second floor comes with about 23,200 square feet for employees and contractors.

The banquet space on the first floor will serve as a meeting area for SANBAG's board.

Impressions For years, the depot served as a gateway to Southern California. The architectural delight offered food, drink and rest to millions of train travelers chugging west from around the country. Gilliam was one of those travelers. He made the trip each summer from his home town of Shreveport, La., to reach relatives in San Bernardino, where he spent his boyhood summers.

"I love to hear the clickety-clack of the wheels. It puts you to sleep," he said. Gilliam and other train enthusiasts are people the city hopes will buy commemorative engraved depot bricks along walkways to help fund public art in and around the station.

For the city, restoring the depot also means devoting attention to the neighborhood surrounding it. San Bernardino officials plan to renovate the area by razing aging shops and modest homes and replacing them with a new shopping center dubbed Mercado de Santa Fe to enhance visitors' impressions of the city.

They're not yet sure how much it will cost. The shopping center's architecture would take its cue from the depot and include a supermarket, landscaped walkways and parking areas, restaurants, shops and possibly a drug store, said Mike Trout, project manager for the city's Economic Development Agency. Agency Director Gary Van Osdel said the project would be further along but the city and developer Arthur Pearlman Corp. of Santa Monica have had a tough time negotiating relocation with the owner of the current shopping plaza. Van Osdel said his agency will ask the City Council to reinstate eminent domain in the redevelopment zone early next year.

First, it must complete an environmental study of the project area, which is bordered by K Street to the east, 3rd Street to the north, 2nd to the south and Mount Vernon to the west. Those who live, work and shop in the area say they look forward to the area getting cleaned up but have doubts about its completion.

"For the past 10 years around here they've been talking about it," said Joseph Choi, manager of the El Tigre market, whose sombrero-wearing tiger logo is visible from the depot's south windows. "This town needs what they are trying to do." "I think it's a good plan if it ever happens," said Joe Serna, who has owned the Santa Fe Barbershop, a stone's throw from the depot, for the past 25 years. "With the budget cuts and the state of California the way it is now, we don't know what will happen."

Reach Karen Gaudette at (909) 806-3076 or Reach K. Franke Santos at (909) 806-3065 or

Your webmaster wishes you to note those italicized sections. He often wonders why train stations are usually too important for public transportation -- which is why they often become restaurants. Here's an example of a restaurant too important to be a restaurant -- so it becomes a bored, er a board room. What a waste!