Will century-old Steilacoom train depot get one more shot at survival?

The train depot on the Steilacoom waterfront turned 100 years old Dec. 14.

There was no celebration, no fanfare. The depot remains shuttered after more than four decades of disuse.

Steilacoom resident Bob Hollister hopes to see that changed. He has lived in the historic South Pierce County town off and on for more than 30 years, and he’s looking to revive interest in saving the building that once served as the local train station.

“What it comes down to, I think, is just getting enough momentum and interest in this and hopefully some outside funding,” Hollister said.

Efforts have been unsuccessful in the past to restore the building owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, in part because the building is so close to the railroad tracks. BNSF also has a condition that if the building were sold, it would have to be moved from the property that it stands on.

Town of Steilacoom officials have offered to buy the nearly half-acre waterfront property from BNSF. But while the railroad company no longer uses the old building, it wants to keep the property, said Town Administrator Paul Loveless.

BNSF still uses the land for maintenance and staging, but the building has been boarded up since after the 2001 Nisqually earthquake.

“The building itself does not play into BNSF’s operational needs,” Loveless said. “We could acquire the building, but then what do you do with it?”

The cost and challenges of moving the old train station are more than the town wants to take on, Loveless said.

Steilacoom does own the parking lot around the depot, adjacent to the Pierce County ferry dock. The lot is used by state employees who catch the ferry to McNeil Island.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said the company would be willing to donate the building to the town or to a historic preservation group, as long as the building is moved from the waterfront property. If that doesn’t happen, the building will likely be demolished eventually, he said in an email.

“It has been in our plans to knock it down; however we’ve been holding off to see if the community can come up with a plan,” Melonas wrote. “We can’t hold it indefinitely.”

The depot was designed by Tacoma architect Arthur P. Merrill in 1913 and opened in 1914. It served as the one train stop in town until the railroad closed the station in 1970.

The town has been approached numerous times by people asking if it would coordinate a restoration effort, Loveless said. But it’s unlikely Steilacoom would lead such an effort.

That doesn’t mean it wants to see the building disappear.

“The town would be more than willing to consider a truly bona fide effort to restore it, as I think BNSF would, too,” Loveless said.

Steilacoom artist Patrick Haskett once proposed transforming the building into a gallery and cafe.

Marianne Bull, president of the Steilacoom Historical Museum Association, said it seemed Haskett had gained momentum in his plans, but negotiations were ultimately unsuccessful. He died in August.

There are many people in town who want to see the depot saved, Bull said, including members of the museum association.

“Historically, it’s a landmark on the waterfront,” she said.

But the group owns three historic properties already and isn’t in a position to take on more real estate, she said.

Hollister, a train buff with family ties to the railroad, doesn’t have a formula for trying to save the depot building. His first step is to see whether there’s enough interest in the community to try again.

“There just isn’t a lot around here that dates that far back,” he said of the depot. “It was pretty important.”