The Bakersfield City Council has granted the Southern Pacific train depot in Old Town Kern a temporary stay of execution.
The depot, which is now owned and operated by Union Pacific, was scheduled for imminent demolition, but a 6-0 vote with Councilman Chris Parlier absent halts the process for the time being.
The vote authorizes city staff to negotiate a 12-month lease with Union Pacific that could grant time for the city to woo a private developer to rehabilitate the building. However, several council members raised concerns about the cost of rehabilitation, meaning the depot could soon be in jeopardy once again.
“I am in favor of taking on (the depot) for a year, but not to over excessively pour money into something that we don’t even know we’re going to have 12 months from now,” Councilwoman Patty Gray said at Wednesday’s meeting. “We’ve got to use some common sense on this because we’ve heard a lot of needs tonight.”
The depot was built in 1889 and has been in continuous use since construction. It has played a vital role in Bakersfield’s history, bringing Basque immigrants to the area, who lend a unique flavor to the city.
To this day, the effects of the depot can be felt in Bakersfield as many of the city’s Basque restaurants still operate nearby.
But community advocates claim the depot is more than just a historical artifact. The building has become the target of an Old Town Kern revitalization effort. By restoring the depot, and allowing new businesses to operate inside, advocates hope to bring more people to the area.
“Throughout the last month and a half, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a number of community residents who have expressed to me how much this depot means to them,” said Councilman Andrae Gonzales. “Many people have remarked that this is one of the very few historic sites that we have in our community.”
One of the oldest buildings that still resembles its original construction, the building has caught the eye of some residents. Local historian Stephen Montgomery called the depot one of the few examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture on the West Coast.
The style incorporates 11th and 12th Century Italian, French and Spanish characteristics and evolved throughout the late 19th Century.
One woman who operates a business near the depot said tearing down the building would be like “tearing down Bakersfield.”
Now owned by Union Pacific, which plans to continue using the rail yard adjacent to the structure, the depot has been scheduled for demolition following a company move to a new location down the street.
The potential cost of refurbishing the property won’t be cheap, according to city estimates. A city analysis found $295,000 to $443,000 would be needed for immediate improvements at the site.
A complete rehabilitation could cost anywhere from $5 million to $10 million.
If negotiations are successful, the City Manager’s Office will return to the City Council with a proposal to approve the lease along with a financing plan to conduct improvements.
For now, at least, the depot will remain standing.
You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.