Tampa, Fla., Feb. 18 and 19
Built in 1912 by architect J.F. Leitner, Tampa Union Station celebrates its Centennial this year
The handsomely restored waiting room where our event tables stood
Long-time Amtrak employee Charlotte Berry assists the visitors in Tampa
After enjoying Florida’s “First Coast” last weekend, we headed west across the peninsula to reach the beautiful shores of Tampa Bay. 2012 is really a special year for Tampa Union Station, which will celebrate its centennial in May on National Train Day. The station staff and Amtrak employees from throughout the state came to help out and show off the Exhibit Train to visitors.
Designed by North Carolina architect J.F. Leitner, the Italian Renaissance Revival station is constructed of brick with handsome stone trim. It was a “union” station because it united the Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard Air Line, and Tampa Northern railroads at a single downtown location on the edge of bustling Ybor City. It was also a fitting gateway for travelers from the north who came in search of fun, sun, and relaxation on Florida’s fabled coastline.
After mid-century, the building fell into disrepair as federal transportation funding priorities shifted towards automobiles and airplanes. Years of deferred maintenance meant that by the 1980s, the roof leaked and plaster fell from the ceiling. In 1984, the facility closed to the public. Thankfully, ardent historic preservationists and historians advocated for a rehabilitation of this grand dame of Florida railroading; in fact, it was one of the first buildings to be designated a Tampa Landmark. A volunteer effort raised more than $4 million in grants and loans, and a full restoration was completed in 1998. Today, the station is once again full of life, serving Amtrak passengers as well as local arts and community groups that hold special shows in the building.
Representatives from the Friends of Tampa Union Station, an all-volunteer organization that advocates for the preservation of the station, were on hand over the weekend to answer questions about the building and point out its fine architectural details. Other than trains or tracks, stations are one of the principle things that people associate with railroads. In much of the promotional material produced by Amtrak over more than four decades—including posters, route guides, and postcards—you’re sure to find stations in the background.
One of the best parts about working on the Exhibit Train is meeting a wide array of people. Visitors always have such diverse interests and backgrounds, which makes it fun to hear their Amtrak and railroad related stories. One woman, who had passed through the station in the 1920s as a young girl, recalled the waiting room busy with people, snippets of conversations floating through the air. Out on the platform, the hissing steam locomotive seemed a creature from another world, and sharply dressed attendants hurried along the platform helping passengers with their bags. The contemporary scene isn’t so different, although the locomotive is now a rumbling diesel. With travel dreams of their own, Exhibit Train attendees lined up to enter a sweepstakes for two roundtrip coach tickets.
In addition to the Friends of Tampa Union Station, other exhibitors included the National Association of Railroad Passengers, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, Florida Operation Lifesaver, Tampa Bay and Company convention and visitors bureau, and the Florida Railroad Museum. Located about 40 miles south of Tampa in the town of Parrish, the museum owns a large collection of locomotives and rolling stock, with particular attention paid to the history of the Plant System and the Seaboard Air Line Railroad. Throughout the year, people come for the popular excursion train rides that use vintage equipment.
It’s said that the railroad never stops, which is definitely true for the Exhibit Train. This week we head south for a special employee open house and barbeque at our Hialeah maintenance facility outside of Miami. There, crews undertake inspections and maintenance work on equipment to ensure that it is in a state of good repair. We hope to see you in Richmond, Va. on March 3rd and 4th!