LAWRENCE, KAN. – Community members and well-wishers packed the historic Lawrence, Kan., depot on the afternoon of Feb. 22, 2019, to celebrate the building’s full rehabilitation. The project, 10 years in the making, centered on a partnership between civic advocates and local government, with support from Amtrak, the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), BNSF Railway and other state and local stakeholders.
During the rededication ceremony, the crowd heard from speakers including Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard; Carey Maynard-Moody, founder of the civic group Depot Redux; and Warren Corman, one half of the architectural duo who designed the depot. Following remarks, attendees were invited to tour the building, which will continue to welcome passengers of the daily Southwest Chief (Chicago-Los Angeles). The depot is temporarily available for events while the city determines the best future use, which could include one or more commercial tenants and/or community functions.
“Projects like this require persistence and patience from everyone involved, while making progress on various steps along the way,” said Stoddard. “It’s extremely gratifying to see how so many different individuals and organizations worked to bring this project to fruition.”
The one-story brick combination passenger and freight station, erected by the Santa Fe Railway, opened in February 1956. Designed by local architects Warren Jones and Warren Corman, it is a prime example of mid-century modern architecture, which is characterized by clean lines and minimal ornamentation. Typical features of the mid-century modern aesthetic found in the Lawrence depot include flat roofs, window walls, panoramic corner windows, integrated planters, rusticated ashlar limestone used for accents and trim, aluminum detailing and the prominent use of neon.
The interior is remarkably intact, including terrazzo floors speckled with black, white and green marble chips, streamlined metal furnishings and aluminum fittings such as the saucer-like hanging lights and ceiling-mounted clock. Due to its design integrity, the depot is included on the National Register of Historic Places and the Register of Historic Kansas Places.
At the urging of Depot Redux, a volunteer organization created in 2008 to advocate for the preservation and rehabilitation of the station, which was then in need of repair, the city explored ways to purchase it from owner BNSF Railway. Meanwhile, Depot Redux members, often joined by locals, cleaned the station monthly and orchestrated popular events at the depot such as musical performances.
Amtrak installed a new accessible concrete platform, railing and platform lighting in 2011, due in part to the efforts of Depot Redux and the city. The building’s neon signage was also restored, but it was reinterpreted for the 21st century. Through a collaboration among Amtrak, the city and the Kansas State Historic Preservation Office, new signs spelling out “Amtrak” and “Lawrence” were installed. Rather than use Santa Fe red, they were executed in blue neon since that is the primary Amtrak brand color.
In June 2017, the depot was formally transferred from BNSF to the city. With the building under its control, Lawrence moved forward with a planned $2 million rehabilitation project. Four years earlier, it had won a $1.2 million Transportation Enhancement (now Transportation Alternatives, TA) grant through the Federal Highway Administration to support the rehab.
Under the TE/TA program, funds can be used for activities related to the preservation of historic transportation facilities, including depots. The city provided a match, and Amtrak committed funds for accessibility-related improvements. An earlier grant awarded to the city and KDOT through the Federal Railroad Administration had been used to draft construction drawings to guide the project.
Work completed in 2018 included the following:
- New roof.
- Glazing for the original aluminum windows.
- New screens and storm windows for the original round-corner windows that allow them to be opened for natural ventilation.
- New heating, ventilation and cooling system.
- Updated electrical system.
- Accessibility upgrades to the restrooms, entrances and drinking fountain.
- Repairs to stone and brickwork, the parking lot and sidewalks.
- Refinished wood surfaces.
- Patching, grinding and sealing of the terrazzo flooring.
- New vinyl tile flooring.
- Interior and exterior painting.
With an eye toward sustainability, the project included installation of geothermal wells that feed into the HVAC system, and positioning of a solar array on the roof. A formal garden was planted on the northwestern end of the property, and an expanded parking lot will open later this year on the east side of the building. Hernly Associates, Inc., of Lawrence oversaw the rehabilitation; in 2009 it had completed a historic structures report for the depot.
Asked what the rehab project has meant to her, Maynard-Moody said, “The kind of reputation a city gets when [benign neglect] happens to its train station is not a good one to have. The civic pride that comes with saving a train station goes a long way to keeping a community healthy. Go for it. Be patient. It’s worth all the effort in the long run.”