High hopes for revitalized West Oakland train station


When the Southern Pacific Train Station opened in 1912 on 16th Street, it was a bustling and grand gateway to the west. Today it is a relic of a bygone era.

"It was a very important place in a lot of people's lives it was the first place many people came to when they managed to get to Oakland," Oakland Heritage Alliance spokesperson Naomi Schiff said.

The 16th Street station was the end of the transcontinental railroad -- the artery that linked the East Coast with the West.

"You had the great migration from the south into this area during the war, but you also had the Japanese internees returning from the camps to that station, you had eastern Europeans coming here that way from the East Coast," Schiff said.

Trains would arrive on the lower level and passengers walked upstairs to waiting trolleys that took them into San Francisco or the East Bay.

Amtrak used the station until it was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. It's just blocks from where the Cypress freeway collapsed. When the community demanded the freeway be moved, the 16th Street station saw its usefulness as a train station come to an end. Caltrans rerouted Interstate 80 around the building and Amtrak moved its station to Jack London Square.

Historians and city leaders are hoping the old station can be the inspiration for a new neighborhood.

"Because it was a city land mark and listed on the national register of historic places we've been looking and thinking of ways to reuse this magnificent building," Oakland tourism coordinator Annalee Allen said.

"When the property was for sale, the community asked me to be really sensitive to potential developers who would make the building be a community resource for the long term," Oakland City Councilmember Nancy Nadel said.

The station and the land around it was purchased in 2005 by a housing developer. The organization has promised to make the old station the centerpiece of the neighborhood of more than 1,200 homes it intends to build.

"I think that we saw it and saw an opportunity to preserve an asset for the community," Bridge Housing CEO Cynthia Parker said. "It's been a while in the making, but I think we're ready to move to the next step."

That next step includes coming up with potential uses for the station and grounds. Thanks to a Hollywood make-over, people will be once again allowed into parts of the building for limited use. HBO recently used the site for filming of an Ernest Hemingway bio-pic.

The Restoration Association for Improving the Landmark 16th Street Station (RAILS) is mindful this building's past, but keeping an eye on the future.

"From this point going forward I am just hoping that there can be that same sort of rhythm that you hear from trains, that same sort of buzz, that same sort of energy that you get when you go to a real active transit center, that that energy will be the kind of energy that we have here," RAILS spokesperson Gregory Hodge said.

Next week, the developer will open the station's doors to ideas they hope will shape the future of the 16th Street Station and encourage others to join in the planning process.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

Tour the station, record memories of the station, listen to live music and spoken word, dine from local, sustainable food trucks, taste East Bay wines, kids' activities, and more.

Thursday, July 28
5:30-8 p.m.
16th Street Station, 16th and Wood Streets
West Oakland

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