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Renewal of the West COnocrd Depot
By Dorrie Kehoe, Friends of the West Concord Depot
In January of 1894, Concord Junction welcomed the opening of Union Station. Located at the intersection of three active train lines crossing or terminating at the station, it brought 125 trains per day to this active part of Town. The station was on the main part of the Fitchburg line, on the Lowell and Framingham branch of the New York, New Haven and Hartford line, and was at the end of a spur of the Concord and Montreal line. The tri-colored train station, variously described as either Italianate or Queen Anne style, replaced a simple wooden structure which was moved to Derby Street, and which enjoyed a second incarnation as a kind of boardinghouse for immigrants coming to work in the industrial section of Concord.

supporting braces


eyebrow window detail


original door


cathedral glass


from the tracks


details


details

News articles announcing the opening of Union Station glowingly described the building. The exterior was wainscoted in dark red vertical boards with chrome yellow lateral clapboards above and trimmed in bronze green. Two eyebrow windows facing the two tracks adorned the roof, ridges on the roof were covered with ornamental copper finials, and a nine-foot roof overhang protected the passengers. A line drawing of the building shows a railing surrounding the station The interior was of fine cypress wood painted a warm orange and the windows were made of clear glass with "cathedral glass" (stained glass) above.

The exuberance of its color scheme was an expression of pride in this very important structure at the heart of Concord Junction, such a busy and thriving place that its post office was of a higher level than Concord Center, and the Junction mail carriers were entitled to wear uniforms!

West Concord Changes
When first constructed, Union Station comprised three separate structures under one roof: the main passenger waiting room (complete with a separate reception room for the use of women), the baggage room (where the MBTA office is now located), and the freight office (now the Club Car Café kitchen). Railroad land extended to Commonwealth Avenue and grass covered the area where the West Concord Supermarket now stands. A large greensward surrounded the station and was not broken up until 1935 when the Mandreolis first built the West Concord Supermarket. Its founder was the grandfather of current owners, Peter and Paul, and the store was a third the size of the current store.

Many of the houses on Commonwealth Avenue were already in place in 1894 and, as now, housed retail businesses on the first floors with dwelling units above. The station was bordered on the far side by the tracks now operated by the MBTA trains, and on the near side by Junction Park, which is constructed on the Railroad right of way.

During the course of years, the Station and the Railroad lines have undergone a series of ownerships both public and private. Significant -- and not always propitious -- changes occurred to the Station building in the mid to late 1900s, culminating in the installation of a faux brick encapsulation of the building which otherwise was beginning to show its age, and was badly in need of paint. This was an ill-advised effort to modernize the building. Around this time the baggage room on the Commonwealth Avenue side of the building was joined to the waiting room by sheets of plywood and the office was removed and replaced by a shed/kitchen which is used by the restaurant tenant.

One bright spot occurred in the late 1980s when a group of West Concord residents undertook to renovate the interior of the building and to have it placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and to ensure that the building would retain its role as a waiting room for train passengers. This is especially significant today as most train stations have been converted to other uses and rarely are used as waiting rooms. The Depot in Concord Center on Thoreau Street is an example of this: the building is now used by private businesses, and no waiting room exists in the original station.

Various restaurants have operated in the Station: Jerome's, which specialized in fine food, especially its Sunday brunches, and the Whistle Stop House of Pizza. It is now the Club Car Café, which operates under a lease from the MBTA, and is required to serve as a waiting room and provides a public restroom during morning commuter hours.

In the intervening 25 plus years, the condition of the exterior of the building has seriously degraded. The faux brick is worn, wood soffits are rotted, the original slate tile roof has been poorly patched and suffers many missing tiles, and some of the supporting posts are knocked askew.

The building is a sad sight set in a sea of uneven, pot-holed asphalt that has obscured the fact that the structure was originally elevated above ground level, and set off by granite curbing.

A Community Renewal Project is Born
In Winter, 2006, some residents involved in an ad-hoc, public-private partnership to improve conditions in West Concord posed the idea that in the midst of many improvements there remained the "800-pound gorilla": the badly deteriorated West Concord Depot.

A team made up of citizens, the Concord Historical Commission and a staff member from the Concord Department of Planning and Land Management (thanks to the support of Concord's Town Manager) approached the building's owner, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA).

On a raw and windy day in early March, 2006 this group met inside the Depot with high-ranking members of the MBTA and proposed that they would apply for Concord Preservation Act (CPA) funds to rehabilitate the exterior of the building. The key, however, would be MBTA participation, and would the "T" have any interest in a joint effort? As one of the Concord group later admitted, she was "gobsmacked" when the MBTA reps immediately said, "Why, yes, if you can raise CPA funds, then the MBTA will be a 50/50 partner!"

This was quickly followed by support from the Concord Board of Selectmen, one of whom remarked that this would be the "capstone" of West Concord renewal, and by the unanimous support of local residents and businesses. The Friends of the West Concord Depot was formed, and in September, 2006 submitted its application to the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) for a grant of $220,000 (of which 50% would come from matching funds from the State) for the restoration of the exterior. This would be matched by an additional $220,000 from the MBTA.

First Steps are Already Successful
a past viewIn December good news was received when the CPC announced that it would recommend favorable action by Concord's 2007 Town Meeting for the restoration. Here it is important to note that half of Concord's share of $220,000 is raised by an already-existing surcharge on real estate, and half is from matching State funds. Because the MBTA is a State agency this means that the project will be 75% State-funded. No regular Concord budget funds will be used for the project and no private funds will be sought.

The renovation of the exterior West Concord Station, as it is now called, will have three major components: to repair the slate roof; to remove the faux brick to expose the original wood clapboards, which will be scraped and painted; and to repair and repaint soffits, trim and support posts. While this rehabilitation is being undertaken, the baggage room will be returned to its original separateness. The plan also calls for the following improvements, which will be accomplished as funding allows: install a metal railing around part of the exterior, replace existing metal doors, and relocate the handicapped-access ramp.

All of the above will be undertaken following the Renovation Standards of the Secretary of the Interior, and will be done under the supervision of the Concord Historical Commission. A Preservation Architect is already at work investigating the condition of the building and making recommendations for restoration/rehabilitation which will be true to the Standards.

Finally, to ensure that this restoration will be protected and that the building will be properly maintained, a Preservation Restriction will be given by the MBTA to the Town, specifying that during an agreed-upon number of years, the "T" will maintain the building in the condition to which it is restored and will, very importantly, agree to continue to operate the Depot as an active train passenger waiting room.

As of this writing, members of the Friends of the Depot are busily working with Concord Town officials and MBTA representatives to ready a Request for Proposals for work to be done, it is hoped, in Fall, 2007, and working as well on preparing the Preservation Restriction. The chief hurdle, at this point, is to secure a positive vote by Concord Town Meeting for expenditure of the funds. The next step will be to secure appropriate bids for the project. And, of course, the final step will be to see the West Concord/Union Station restored to its former status as a focal point of West Concord.

Artwork: All images courtesy of Concord's Department of Planning and Land Management. Backgrounds by Word of Mouth Web Design. Images courtesy of Clipart.com.

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