Sunday, May 24, 2009

It's Not High-Speed Rail but It's OUR Union Station

Yes, Tampa does have train service. It’s not high-speed rail, which has been talked about for many years and may one day happen, but we are served by a railroad and have been for well over a hundred years. Henry B. Plant brought his railway here to serve his wealthy guests vacationing at the grand, Moorish-style Tampa Bay Hotel in the 1890s. Not long after the U.S. Army encamped here and road the rails in 1898 before setting sail from Port Tampa for Cuba and the Spanish-American War. So, yes, although Tampa’s history of train travel isn’t long when compared to many U.S. cities and foreign capitals, we’re proud of Tampa Union Station. It was built in 1912 and was served by the Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard Air Line and the Tampa & Gulf Coast railroads. It was designed by J.F. Leitner in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. In 1974, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its architectural and historic significance. Through most of the 20th century, its beautiful lobby welcomed people from all over North America. It was the the place that saw soldiers and airmen off to two world wars. Through its doors they came to say goodbye, duffel bags slung over shoulders, to board trains for unknown and faraway lands. And families, wives and children welcomed home veterans of our wars. Onto its platforms thousands of passengers took their first steps as they began to discover the wilds and wonders (and heat) of Florida’s Gulf Coast and its natural beauty (and Weeki Wachee Springs, carved coconut heads and Shell Factory stores only to be followed decades later by Disney, Mickey, Space Mountain and EPCOT.) The sounds and hugs of grandparents visiting their grandchildren. Young pilots coming home to marry their sweethearts. Shipyard workers heading down to the docks to build and repair ocean-going vessels. Businessmen returning home after travels up and down the Eastern seaboard. But, as train ridership fell over the years, and the popularity, cost and and ease of automobile and airline travel grew, the station began to fall into disrepair. By 1984, the beautiful station was closed and the passengers who still road the rails used a temporary building. But, the public and dedicated preservationists recognized that a tremendous part of our history was represented in the station, a history worth restoring and reopening. Union Station was acquired in 1991 by the non-profit Tampa Union Station Preservation & Redevelopment. After many hours of work and millions of dollars in restoration funds, it re-opened in 1998 and was one of the first buildings to be designated a Tampa Landmark by the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. (Visit Tampa Florida Photo for additional photos.) The station reopened to Amtrak passengers and the public that same year. Today, the station serves as a stop for Amtrak’s New York-Miami overnight Silver Star, as well as providing connections to Orlando, Lakeland, Pinellas Park-St. Petersburg, Bradenton, Sarasota, Port Charlotte, and Ft. Myers. It’s still the only train station in the city. Never been another. Today, a permanent endowment ensures that the station and its proud history will endure for many generations. All aboard.


Julie said...

I like the building! I also like your other photos. the wigs are a hoot. I have signed up as follower and look forward to more great photos. I am glad you liked the Indian Fry Bread photos on my site.

Vogon Poet said...

Seen in your first photo your station looks like hundreds of stations here but when I see the second image I see a little masterpiece. I am very glad that they still use it on a prestigious route and that they are interested in its preservation as historical building.

Anonymous said...

I have lived in Tampa all of my life, and I've seen this station at both ends of the spectrum. My grandfather retired as an engineer, and as a little boy, I've even ridden in the cabin of his diesel locomotive as we departed from this place. It's true that they did a wonderful job restoring the building. But I will tell you this.... If you exit those doors and attempt to traverse by the direction of any of the prevailing four winds, you will most assuredly be taking your life into your own hands. Time has not only changed the needs of the traveler here... it has also changed the neighborhood. The people that you might meet right outside those doors may not like you very much! And why…? Because you’re you.
I sincerely hope anyone keen on traveling to or from Tampa will understand what I'm talking about :) God help you and yours if you don’t.