Opened in 1912 at 16th Street and Wood Street, the Southern Pacific Train Station in West Oakland used to be one of the three original train stations serving Oakland at the beginning of the 20th Century, bringing goods and people—from coastal workers to jazz musicians—to the region from all over the country.
However, the station suffered significant damage during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 and has remained closed since then. After losing its functions to the nearby train stations in Emeryville and Jack London Square, today the once-bustling gateway to the region stands quietly in a neighborhood that’s long been assailed by crime and poverty.
In 2005, the station was purchased by BRIDGE Housing, a San Francisco-based developer that is building more than 1,000 of housing units in the surrounding neighborhood. The project, also known as the Central Station, intends to turn the station into the center of a revitalized community.
“When you walked into the building six or seven years ago, it felt like a skeleton, something dead,” said Greg Hodge, board chair for the Restoration Association for Improving the Landmark 16th St. Station (RAILS), a nonprofit that has been working with BRIDGE to reuse the Beaux Arts building over the past three years. “Now when you walk into it, you get a sense of life.”
As the groups’ first attempt to revive the venue, the station was opened to the public on Thursday afternoon. Free tours, accompanied by live music, acrobatic shows and food vendors, attracted hundreds of people, including Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and Councilmember Nancy Nadel (District 3).
“We need people to come and appreciate this building,” said Cynthia Parker, BRIDGE’s CEO on Thursday. “It had fallen on tough times but we think this building can be the center piece of the community. ”
Parker, who also serves as a board member for RAILS, said the group’s short-term plan is to draw more visitors to the historic site, so that people can enjoy local food, watch movies and performances there. The groups even intend to create an urban farm outside the station. The groups are also gathering input from the community on how to reuse the building in the long run after it is fully repaired and functional.
However, the community may have to wait for years before that happens. According to the developer’s website, the project depends on tax increment money that will be created by the surrounding housing units, which are estimated to be completed in 2013.