With a $400,000 grant from Caltrain in hand, Atherton is on its way to outfitting its 620-square-foot train station depot, at the shuttered stop, with a "mini rail history museum."
Staff soon plans to send the project out to bid. The concept is to create a place where visitors can stroll, sit and view displays at what the town is describing as a rail history museum, according to a town staff report. Staff say it will cost an estimated $300,000 to construct.
"The train station building is a building that everyone in Atherton knows," said Mayor Rick DeGolia in an email. "There has been a train station building there for more than 100 years and if it is turned into an interesting exhibit and museum, I think that it will be a point of interest for Atherton residents and an interesting feature in the new Town Center."
DeGolia said the depot will either stand as an aging relic next to the civic center, or it can be integrated as a point of interest. He supports the latter.
"I think that the use of the train station is much more interesting and positive than just to let that building deteriorate or remain as a gazebo facing the train tracks with no function," he added.
The existing track side opening will be closed with glass wall panels consistent with the structure's design, and will include a double door. On the civic center side, the center wall panel will be removed and replaced with activated double doors.
Within the museum, the town envisions displays of Atherton's train station history, the trains and the riders, according to the staff report. The museum will be outfitted with a video display and benches, various free standing historical displays and a secure display case that will feature model trains on a track as a focal point. These model trains will present a chronological evolution of the history of the train in Atherton.
One of the more potentially expensive parts of the museum is installing an HVAC system to protect historic displays and electronic equipment, Director of Public Works Robert Ovadia told the council earlier this month. A commercial unit can cost up to $22,000 for a space this size.
The train depot at Dinkelspiel Station Lane was central to life in Atherton since before the town was incorporated, during the days when it was just a sleepy community of summer homes. But Caltrain cut service to Atherton in 2020 because of lack of ridership and some town officials' desire to safeguard the town from legislation that could put cities on the hook to allow high density housing near public transit.
In the 1860s, the Pacific and Atlantic Railroad opened the Fair Oaks flag stop, a designation meaning that the train stopped in town only when passengers waved a cloth at the station to indicate they wanted to be picked up, Heritage Association documents say.
Caltrain granted the town $400,000 to improve the Atherton station area. The Town entered into an agreement with San Francisco-based Garavaglia Architecture for design services to remodel the station building to accommodate a rail history museum and to address deferred maintenance issues in the building.
Council member Diana Hawkins-Manuelian said she'd like to see the museum ready for the public by the town's centennial celebration in September.
Council members indicated at a Nov. 2 meeting that they may opt to nix outdoor benches, which would cost an estimated $15,000, to save money on the project.
Read more about the project plans here.