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Seattle Takes Another Look At Historic King Street Station

Associated Press

Architects say a historic gem may be buried behind the false ceilings, cream-colored paint and years of grime at Seattle’s King Street Station.

The question is where to dig up the millions of dollars needed to restore the 91-year-old train depot.

Reporters were given a tour of the station Friday by architects studying what it would take to restore the building to its initial grandeur.

“There’s so much history in this building,” said Jeff Wolfe of Otak Inc., a Kirkland architectural and engineering firm. “It’s like stepping back in time.”

On May 10, 1906, the then-elegant station, featuring a 245-foot clock tower, opened as the western terminus for the Great Northern Railroad. The depot was declared a historic landmark in 1973.

The station, just north of the Kingdome, is now owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, the successor to the Great Northern, and Amtrak leases space there.

Some 400,000 Amtrak passengers still pass through the station each year, but few praise its ambience. The waiting room’s fluorescent lights, aging acoustical tile and black vinyl seats stress function over charm.

“I think it’s criminal what they did to this space,” Wolfe said.

While train stations declined along with passenger rail service in the 1960s and 1970s, some cities have recycled them as urban assets. St. Louis’ station has been reworked into a hotel and shopping mall, while Tacoma’s Union Station has been reborn as a federal courthouse.

Interest has piqued in the King Street Station recently. The new Regional Transit Authority wants the station for its commuter rail line. King County is planning an office building in the adjacent parking lot. The station is between Pioneer Square and the International District, and will be within walking distance of the new Mariners ballpark and Seahawks stadium.

Last month, the state Department of Transportation began a $4.1 million project to determine the soundness of the King Street Station and design a major renovation. Otak and Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, a Los Angeles firm, is conducting the study.

A first phase of renovation would cost about $18.5 million, money that has yet to be found.

Restoring the entire building, including abandoned office and retail areas on the second and third floors, could cost $90 million, said state Transportation Department spokesman Stan Suchan.

He said if the state decides the station should be renovated, it would look for additional federal money as well as help from Amtrak and the RTA. Eventually, it wants to decide whether the station should become a public building or be turned over to a developer, he said.

The RTA already has budgeted about $11 million to improve platforms and parts of the station for the commuter rail service.

The station suffered from a 1965 renovation of the waiting room that removed marble walls, plaster molding and a tile trim of green and gold.

The false ceiling cut about 15 feet off the 44 feet of headroom visitors once enjoyed.

Renovators hid a curved, ornate balcony that looked out on the waiting room from a mezzanine, Wolfe said. Windows in the mezzanine were filled with concrete.

The station’s exterior windows were frequently painted over, leaving the waiting room dark.

The glass in the canopy on the train platform was replaced with corrugated tin.

Some of the old building’s features remain, though, including the carved granite and round windows over the entrance.

The marble and tile can still be seen in the foyer, and some of the original molding exists on the station’s upper two floors.

The walls of the clock tower’s peak still have their glass tiles, once green but long ago turned a light purple by the sun.

“We could put lighting behind the glass tiles in the face of the clock and the sloped section of the tower,” Wolfe said.

“It could be quite a beacon for the city.”

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