By UCILIA WANG
UKIAH -- Despite the broken glass and graffiti, the 73-year-old train depot in downtown Ukiah still radiates an alluring mystique that hints at its importance to the city's history. But years of neglect also have made the vacant depot a point of frustration and embarrassment for businesses and residents. Its deteriorating facade stands in plain sight to motorists who take Perkins Street, the main road into downtown. "The depot is a monument, and it's a beautiful building. I would love to see it cleaned up," said Laura Gerrard, general manager of a video store across the street. "Or else it's going to get destroyed."
After years of debating the fate of the depot, the city has agreed to carry out a $168,000 project to renovate the building, a wood and brick structure with a column-supported, wrap-around porch. A previous plan to turn the depot into a transportation hub was scrapped in 2000 when the Mendocino Transit Authority, which considered buying the train station, decided the effort would be too costly and time-consuming.
"Restoring the depot is instrumental in the process of revitalizing our downtown," said Albert Fierro, Ukiah's assistant city manager. "We also want to preserve the historical heritage of the community," Fierro said. The depot, which sits on about 11 acres, belongs to the North Coast Railroad Authority, co-owner of the railroad line that runs from Schellville near Sonoma to Eureka. Because the railroad authority lacks the manpower to oversee the face-lift project, it has contracted with the city of Ukiah instead.
Once the train station is renovated, the railroad authority plans to use it for office space, said Max Bridges, executive director of the railroad authority. The depot also could be opened for passenger service again once the railroad authority and its partners finish repairing the 273-mile rail line, Bridges said. Repairs are expected to take several years. The City Council has expressed interest in using part of the depot space for a visitors' center. Bridges said it's too early to decide on the idea.
When it was actively used in the early 20th century, the train station helped shape the city. Built in the Colonial Revival Style in 1929, the depot was the third train station in town, said Judy Pruden, a local historian. The first passenger and freight trains rumbled through Ukiah in 1889. "It helped create an economic boom for Ukiah," Pruden said. "Ukiah increased in size after being connected to train services." The last time the depot received passenger trains was in 1942, but freight service continued until the early 1990s.
The city's renovation plan includes cleaning up the graffiti inside and outside of the building, repairing electrical wiring, replacing shingles on the roof and painting the interior walls. Work crews also would whack the weeds and prune the few trees and bushes surrounding the building. The project is scheduled to begin early next year, and is expected to be complete by late spring, said Rick Seanor, the city's deputy public works director The city also is applying for an additional $201,000 from the state to improve the depot site, Seanor said. The city expects the California Transportation Commission to approve the money in October. It hopes to finish the project by the end of 2003