The dream to refurbish the historic presidential train station in Oyster Bay, which has been discussed for a very long time took a giant step forward this week with the announcement of a capital campaign to raise funds for the approximately $2 million project, which could start as early as January 2015.
Railroad Museum officials and architectural consultants told a packed audience at Sagamore Yacht Club last Tuesday night that a full set of construction drawings are well underway, and subject to approval from the state historical preservation office. They want to put work on the listed structure out to bid the first of the year and could have the exterior done by the end of 2015.
“We’re behind this project,” said Oyster Bay Town Councilman Anthony D. Macagnone, representing Supervisor Joseph Venditto. “Whatever you need, please reach out to us.”
According to railroad museum officials, consultants were hired the beginning of this year to come up with a plan to restore to the extent possible the 19th century structure that had its glory days beginning in 1902, when it was massively refurbished to accommodate the large influx of rail traffic associated with the Teddy Roosevelt presidency.
That structure, which featured a passenger shed that extended 200 feet, and made use of distinctive materials in its construction, was the work of Bradford Lee Gilbert, said John Collins, Historic Building Design consultant to the project. “Gilbert was quite a luminary and a very important architect in his time, and considered the father of the skyscraper,” said Collins. “We’re lucky to have one of the great examples of his work right here in Oyster Bay.”
Over the years however, the railroad depot went into decline, particularly after the LIRR built a new elevated platform to the west of the station in 1998, and the classic old structure became an office and locker room for railroad personnel. “And then it was abandoned,” said Collins. “The railroad’s job is to move people, not preserve architecture. And that’s unfortunate. A lot was lost.”
But in recent years, elements of the local community have rallied around the historic building. In 2004, it was designated a New York State landmark. The following year the Town of Oyster Bay acquired it from LIRR, got it listed on the national register of historic places by virtue of its association with major American political figures, as well as distinctive architectural characteristics.
And a grant to the Oyster Bay Main Street Association in 2007 resulted in a plan, which has guided consultants toward their current plan for refurbishment.
“I know John’s work,” said Macagnone. “He’s worked with us on the clock tower in Roslyn. He’s meticulous.”
Collins is looking forward to the project.
“It’s going to be so much fun putting it back together,” said Collins. “We’re using 1922 drawings which reproduced Gilbert’s original drawings. Subject to funding, we want to reconstruct a portion of the passenger sheds…and we’re sending material to the lab and hope to exactly reproduce the brown lithic paving. And we know the structure had lovely curved stairs — there are “ghosts” of them in the pavement — so we can exactly reproduce them.”
If plans proceed as Collins and others hope, the first order of business will be getting the infrastructure and the exterior of the building back in order in early 2015.
“There’s some heavy grunt work to be done,” he said. “For example, there were great huge wooden trusses, 8x8, which were taken out at some point. The building is starting to settle, we’ll have to jack that up and redo them.”
Railroad Museum officials have set a target of $1.4 million to do the interior and exterior repairs, and an additional $550,000 for exhibits once the building is refurbished.