BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Perhaps the single most historic landmark in East Bakersfield is the Union Pacific train station, built more than 100 years ago and still in use as a communications center today.
However, the railroad has indicated to city officials that the station’s usefulness has just about come to an end. What does that mean for this important piece of local history?
The railroad plans to demolish the building — which dates back to 1889 — as soon their new communication center is ready to open, and it looks to be almost ready.
That’s according to Bakersfield City Councilman Andrae Gonzales — whose second ward includes Old Town Kern. He says we can’t have that.
“Their plan is to demolish this structure,” he said, “and I think that is absolutely appalling. It cannot happen and we must do whatever we can to preserve this building. This is a historic building not only for Old Town Kern but for the city of Bakersfield.”
Union Pacific issued a statement Thursday afternoon that did not confirm Gonzales’s belief that demolition was a possibility.
“Union Pacific recently met with the City of Bakersfield to discuss potential opportunities for future use of the Depot,” Union Pacific spokesman Tim McMahan wrote in a statement to KGET. “Discussions are ongoing and no decision has been made on the future of the Depot at this time.”
The section of Bakersfield we’ve come to know and love, warts and all, probably wouldn’t be here if not for the Southern Pacific Railroad’s decision more than a century ago to bypass Bakersfield and lay its tracks a couple of miles east in what then became the town of Sumner.
Now we call the area Old Town Kern — a place with some challenges but also some of the city’s best loved restaurants.
At the center of it is what is now the Union Pacific station, built in 1889. The Spanish Revival style depot as we know it today has undergone a couple of significant renovations since then, the first of them in 1913.
Local historian Stephen Montgomery says other cities have worked out arrangements with railroads.
“Other communities have found great alternative uses for obsolete depots,” he said, “that are significant works of architecture by at the time recognized masters.”
Sacramento, Pasadena, and Eugene, Ore., to name just a few, have transformed their retired rail stations. Gonzales would like to see that happen here.
But first Bakersfield officials need to negotiate a deal with Union Pacific to turn away the wrecking ball.
Is it worth the effort? City officials are interested in the public’s input.