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Restored Art Deco Train Station To Add Transportation, Offices To Downtown

Kaye Burlison remembers what the Santa Fe train station looked like in her youth: rusted metal canopies that stained the building’s limestone exterior, and windows fogged up from the uneven temperature control inside.  

“It was rust-colored instead of cream, so it was definitely in disrepair, ” Burlison said.

The historic station in downtown Oklahoma City was built in in 1934, with art deco light fixtures and elaborate designs painted on the ceilings. It served passenger rail traffic until 1979, but didn’t see passenger trains again until 1999, when Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer line began passing through on the way to Norman, Ardmore and Texas. Even with renovations in 2000, the station didn’t look like it had in the past--until now.


Credit Metropolitan Library System
Metropolitan Library System
A photo from 1934 shows the Santa Fe Station soon after it was built.


A recent restoration, overseen by the city and funded by grants and public money, hopes to change that. The City of Oklahoma City held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the occasion on Thursday.  

The building still has its original floors in black, red and orange terrazzo, and limestone walls with the imprints of ancient seashells. But it now features brand-new furniture, signs, clocks and lights carefully modeled to look like the fixtures seen in 1930s photographs of the station. The wood-and-glass ticket booth is new, as well. But it’s just for show--Amtrak passengers will still have to buy their tickets online or on the train.

The biggest change is that the Santa Fe Station will now hold offices for tenants like Destination Oklahoma, which offers tours of the area, and Spokies, the city’s bike share program.

Kaye Burlison is now an architect for the city who is overseeing the construction and restoration of the station. She’s spent the past three years on the project, which broke ground in December 2015.

“It’s been a challenge but it’s definitely worth it, just like if it was my child. I put in the effort and now I get to show it off,” Burlison said.

She said the project took care to conceal sprinklers, ducts and other modern fixtures so they wouldn’t mar the high, painted ceilings.

“When you’re dealing with a historical building, you’re not supposed to impact the historic fabric,” Burlison said.

The first two phases of the project were the building restoration and the construction of a parking lot and plaza on E. K. Gaylord Boulevard. Phases three and four are the extension of a pedestrian tunnel under the train tracks and the construction of a plaza in Bricktown. Stops for city buses and the streetcar will be adjacent to the building. Expected completion is mid-2019, said Burlison.

The budget for the entire project is $24.8 million, about half of which came from a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Other funding sources include MAPS, the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

Burlison expects the new Santa Fe Station to be an important part of downtown Oklahoma City’s expansion by contributing to the transportation options in the neighborhood.

“It revitalizes the area. We’re going to have people in here all the time. That’s the whole purpose of architecture, is to utilize the space. And it wasn’t being used, not like it should have been,” Burlison said.

The city is hosting a public open house at the Santa Fe Station on Dec. 9.


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