Monday, October 26, 2015

Depot may become national historic site

(Originally published in the 10/25/15 edition)

   The Southern Pacific Train Depot, located at the end of First Street, has been many things over the years: a train station, a haunted house and the home of Benicia Main Street. In a few months, it could be something else: a national historic landmark.
   The Benicia Historical Society is submitting an application for the building at 930 First Street to be recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, an official list of historic places across America that are deemed worthy of preservation. On Thursday night, the Historic Preservation Review Commission voted to approve the application, which means it will go through another few rounds before it can officially be added to the list.
   If selected, the Depot would share a list with over 90,000 buildings across the country. Benicia currently has nine sites on the Register: the Benicia Arsenal, the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park, Crooks Mansion, the Joseph Fischer House, the Old Masonic Hall, the Stamboul whaling bark site, the Von Pfizer General Store, the USCGC Storis and the Carr House on East D Street which was demolished in 2000.
   The Depot itself has a long history. According to Bonnie Silveria, the president of the Benicia Historical Society, the structure was built in Banta in the 1800s. In 1903, it was shipped over to Benicia where it served as a railroad depot for the Southern Pacific Railroad until 1930.
   “At that time, it came to the end of First Street out there by the pier, and then the railroad trains would be put on a ferry across to Port Costa,” Silveria said. 
   The building remained operational until 1958 as the home for the family of a station agent. 
   “They did bring trains down back when there was still industry on First Street,” Silveria said. “When I was a young girl, it was where you went to send a telegram.”
   The building was purchased by the city in 1975. By the late ‘90s, the building was in disarray and was frequently surrounded by floods. The city made an effort to restore the building, which was completed in 2001. It now houses the Benicia Main Street program with a gift shop and See’s Candies. 
   Once a building is placed on the Register, restrictions are put in place over what can be done to it.
   “If someone came in and bought it, they couldn’t tear it down or do improvements that aren’t within the improvements that can be done to a historic building,” Silveria said.
   The Depot will then need to be approved by Benicia’s Parks and Community Services department and then City Council. Afterwards, the application will be submitted to Sacramento and then Washington, D.C. for national approval. 

   “I would be very surprised if we didn’t make it,” Silveria said. “But then again, I’ve been surprised before.”

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