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Railroad depot speeds into history books.

Byline: Tim Christie The Register-Guard

In its nearly 100 years of existence, Eugene's railroad depot has gone from a celebrated gateway for a boom town, to a forgotten relic of the automobile age, to a renovated gem of a train station. Now it's officially historic.

The Southern Pacific Passenger Depot, built in 1908, has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places, state officials announced last week.

"This is a big feather in Eugene's cap - a city that believes that the history of its people is significant and important," said Russ Mecredy, the city official who oversaw the building's $4.5 million renovation in 2004.

The depot, located at 433 Willamette St., is one of more than 60 buildings and sites in Eugene to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The building is an architectural symbol of the city's early reliance on the railroad for passenger and freight transport, according to Sally Donovan, a Hood River historic preservationist who prepared the city's application to list the building.

It's one of five masonry depots still existing along the original Southern Pacific West Coast line. The others are in Albany, Medford, Roseburg and Salem.

In 1908, Eugene was booming, with a population of 9,000. Business leaders, eager to show off the city's core, aggressively lobbied Southern Pacific Railroad officials to build a new, fancier depot to replace the existing station.

"They wanted something showy," Donovan said.

The railroad was persuaded, assigning an unnamed engineer in Portland to draw up plans for a pressed-brick depot at the north end of Willamette Street.

The depot was built with characteristics of several styles, Donovan said. Its low horizontal appearance, wide eave overhangs, large wooden brackets, tall double-hung windows and diamond-pane dormer windows are reminiscent of the Craftsman style. The red-brick construction and semi-circular bay window facing the track are characteristic of the Richardsonian Romanesque style.

"The depot's design combined simple forms with careful detailing to give the station utility and beauty," Donovan wrote in the application.

The city and the railroad shared in the $40,000 cost of the project.

The grand opening was celebrated on June 24, 1908, drawing a crowd of more than 1,000 from Eugene and Portland.

"The streets of the city are in gala attire and each citizen is vying with his neighbor in making visitors feel they are welcome," the Eugene Daily Guard reported.

The rival Morning Register took an expansive view of the new building: "Eugene typifies the twentieth century idea of progress in the empire of the west. ... Eugene's progress is an open highway that any other city in Oregon may travel to like success."

After the depot was completed, city officials built a park surrounding the depot with help from Southern Pacific. Both the depot and the park were part of the City Beautiful movement of the early 20th century, when cities across the United States improved their communities by creating inviting urban environments as a way to attract more businesses and full-time residents, Donovan said.

"People wanted to beautify their cities," she said.

Even with the advent of the automobile and construction of the Pacific Highway in the 1920s, the Southern Pacific remained a popular mode of transportation, Donovan said. And trains were vital for moving troops during World War II.

But after the war, as cars and trucks gained popularity for moving people and freight, trains fell from favor. In 1955, Southern Pacific abandoned its Shasta Line, a major connector between California and Oregon. Much of Depot Park was removed to make way for parking lots.

In 1960, the last passenger train left the station, and the depot was used as a freight office until 1983. Southern Pacific sold the depot to the Jenova Land Co. in 1993, and in 2003 the city of Eugene bought the depot and the office/bunkhouse as part of a plan to develop a regional transportation center.

The city oversaw a $4.5 million makeover in 2004, with $3.5 million in federal money and $1 million from Amtrak. Workers restored the exterior brickwork and trim, and gutted and renovated the 5,346-square-foot interior with tile floors, oak and fir trim, covered ceilings, new wooden benches and expanded bathrooms.

Lane County Historical Museum
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Title Annotation:Government; The Eugene relic is listed on the national historic register
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 7, 2007
Words:710
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