The Sacramento Valley Station (SAC), serving California’s capital, is the busiest Amtrak depot west of Chicago. Built in 1926 as one of the last of the great pre-Depression urban rail depots, SAC, though still functioning, fell into disrepair over the decades. The City of Sacramento has finally embarked on an effort to renovate and restore it, making it one of the centerpieces of a large downtown redevelopment that includes a new stadium, a mixed-use complex, and more.
Though the station is listed on national and state registers of historic places, it almost did not survive the 20th century. As reported in the Sacramento Bee, preservation group Save Our Rail Depot fought off efforts to demolish the structure and move the depot by a few hundred feet. Ownership of the station passed from Union Pacific Railroad to the city in 2006.
SAC was designed in a Mediterranean Revival style, with a terra cotta roof, extensive brickwork, and a long, low facade that gives it the look of an oversized Venetian palace. San Francisco architects Bliss and Faville did the original design. Murals and tile work cover the barrel-vaulted ceiling of the waiting room.
The $31 million restoration, led by Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects, is part of a larger three-phase effort to transform the station and its surroundings into the Sacramento Intermodal Transportation Facility (SITF). Structural upgrades, such as a new roof, and stabilization were completed last year. Phase two, underway now, will clean the decorative elements, from the floor tiles to the chandeliers, create new office and retail spaces, and update electrical and ventilation systems. Soot and other residue will be scrubbed off a neglected mural depicting the groundbreaking of the Transcontinental Railroad. Local preservation firm Page & Turnbull is overseeing the preservation of the station’s historic elements.
City officials expect SITF to accommodate up to two million annual passengers—between Amtrak, commuter rail, bus, and light rail passengers—when the restoration is complete. City officials envision it as a center for car-sharing as well. But that activity may be short-lived. A new station is planned nearby to accommodate the state’s high-speed rail network. And Amtrak platforms were already shifted 1,000 feet north of their previous location, making SAC more of a figurehead for Amtrak passengers.
The restoration may thus signal the repurposing of the 68,000-square-foot station for uses other than transportation. As with the recent renovation of Denver’s Union Station, portions of SAC may be reserved for restaurants and bars that will appeal to travelers and non-travelers alike. Additions of bike parking and an outdoor patio are planned as well.
The job is also rooted in the future. For the better part of a decade, Sacramento has been planning for, and squabbling over, the development of an arena for the Sacramento Kings NBA team and an accompanying entertainment district. That project, which won approval last year—after the Kings threatened to leave the city entirely—is being built as part of a sports and entertainment district on the downtown K Street Mall. The Kings recently announced that they, in partnership with the city, are purchasing a sculpture by pop art juggernaut Jeff Koons to adorn the entry plaza to the new arena. The city and team raised $3 million to purchase the piece, a multicolored enormity roughly in the shape of a bear from Koons’ Coloring Book series. The team says that it will be the first Koons piece purchased by a city for public display.
Further redevelopment plans for the area are in the works. The Sacramento Entertainment and Sports Complex will be accompanied by a 16-story mixed-use hotel, retail, and residential complex designed by Los Angeles–based Rios Clementi Hale Studios. AECOM is the lead architect for the arena, which is scheduled to open October 2016.
As use of transit and long-term projects like California High Speed Rail proceed, SAC and SITF are on track to have a productive future for decades to come.