Monday, September 14, 2009

Denver's Grand Union Station

Denver’s Grand Old Union Station, glowering these days at the 17th and Wynkoop in lower downtown, means an awful lot to the Gallagher family.

My grandfather, Bill Gallagher, worked for over 40 years as an engineer on the Rio Grande railroad. Our family bought a commemorative brick in front of Union Station remembering my grandfather’s many years of hard work and service to the Rio Grande.  He started out working on the old Moffat Road, which chugged from the track swerve of Denver and the Platte River, past Winter Park over the thin-aired Carona Pass, and ending in a recirculation on to the environs of the western slope.  

When he took the test for engineer for the Moffat he got 100% on the test.  The test-givers at the railroad thought he must have cheated - No one ever gets 100%.  So they made Gallagher take the test again.  Gallagher got another 100% grade and was hired. But whenever he told me this story he would always lecture me about how the Irish have to work twice as hard as the Anglo-Saxons to get hired, to get ahead, to be fully integrated into “this beautiful land.”  “For them to accept us, Dennis,  we must study twice as hard, work twice as hard and fight twice as hard to hold our own,” he would say puffing on his pipe like a steam engine.  His blue eyes flashed with a little bit of anger accompanied with a smile of confidence on what he had accomplished after coming to America. Ah, indeed, we are all proud of him.

The Rio Grande came into Union Station and I fondly remember going down to Union Station with my dad to meet my grandfather after one of his many trips by rail.  I remember meeting my uncles at Union Station when the all came back from World War II.  The place was filled with soldiers and sailors.  I remember taking the train to graduate school, to visit relatives in Chicago, and many times to Winter Park. I fondly remember my beloved daughter Meaghan Kathleen flipping the switch to ignite the red neon “Travel by Train,” celebrating a long postponed restoration.  The Gallagher's loved, and still love traveling by train, and because of our grandfather, Denver’s Union Station is in our blood and bones.  And to borrow from Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake “welt the floor of the engine cab and be sure to watch your trutter shake.”

When I served in the Senate a few years back, the city administration wanted to move Union Station and AMTRAK out of lower downtown to a site near the animal rendering plant in Adams County. The station was to be turned into a large boutique center as I recall.  Imagine the odoriferous whiff of incommodious viscera of dead carcasses the visitors could sniff as they got on buses to be herded downtown upon arrival to our environs.  So we formed a group, Tom Noel included, called, SOTS, Save Our Train Station.  We met at a brewpub of one of the organizers, John Hickenlooper. We drank lots of Rail yard Ale to protect the station, even after the threat passed. We changed the name to SOS, Save Our Station, for better branding purposes.  The city wisely abandoned the idea as the businesses in lower downtown liked the many thousands of visitors from Europe and America who spent a day in our city when riding the train across the country to our Union Station.

So now our Union Station faces new challenges in its long history. So far all the talk has been about the large developments around and in front of Union Station. Not a word is heard about what should draw people into Union Station. So far it’s all about tax increment financing, how high the buildings will be, and where the buses go. And unfortunately two new buildings on either side of the façade of the station will block the Wynkoop view.  Thank goodness the marvelous model train layout in the station’s basement, a treasure to generations Denver’s children, is being saved.

 With all this talk about development around Union Station, Liz Orr and Vicky Godbey, with help from Dana Crawford, have formed a grassroots citizen participation organization, USA, to help figure out what should be done with the interior of the station. They also want to encourage citizen input on what the small Wynkoop Plaza in front of the station should look like. Joyfully Dana Crawford and others are planning to resurrect the Station’s Welcome Arch. Their goals are “to generate citizen leadership in ‘revitalizing a great civic landmark.”  So if you want to join Liz and Vicky in trying to figure all this out, you can join Union Station Advocates, 1700 Bassett Street, Suite # 1901, Denver, Colorado 80202.  $50 gets you a membership and they have applied for the 501(c) 3. 

And you can check on line, for more information about their big party at the Station on Thursday evening, October 15th, 2009. Tickets start at $40. Tell your friends and fellow travelers. Mitzpah!

No comments: