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Can park give new life to old train station?

The train station today is crumbling, but retains some its original decorative tiles.

New effort begins to restore Westchester Ave. depot

A new effort is underway to restore the historic Westchester Avenue train station that sits just outside Concrete Plant Park.

Nearly 74 years have passed since passengers boarded the last train at the station. Weather and time have bruised and battered the building. But because it is the work of one of New York’s most famous architects, preservationists have never quite given up on finding a way to rehabilitate and reuse it.

Now, the architects who celebrated the Bronx River with two floating works of environmental art have secured a grant to draft proposals to save the station and make it useful again.

Amanda Schachter and her husband Alexander Levi envision moving the station to the waterfront in or alongside the park, according to the announcement from the James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation that it had awarded the pair its Richard L. Blinder Award.

This photo from the Library of Congress shows the station in 1915.

The award, for a proposal titled “Bronx River Right of Way: Reclaiming Cass Gilbert’s Westchester Avenue Station for the Waterfront,” provides up to $15,000 to come up with ways to preserve the station, which was designed by Cass Gilbert, whose best-known work includes the United States Supreme Court building, Manhattan’s Custom House on Bowling Green and the Woolworth Building on Broadway, which was once the tallest skyscraper in the world.

Schachter says it’s too early to offer details of how the station might be brought back to life. But one idea, she said, would build on the pairs’ earlier Bronx River work by moving the section of the building that is elevated over the train tracks onto a barge that would float on the river.

The grassroots organizations that worked to reimagine an abandoned concrete plant into Concrete Plant Park have eyed the old station for years.

Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice held a community forum on the subject in 2005. It came up with idea of making the station a gateway and visitor center to the park, a notion endorsed by the Pratt Center for Community Development’s Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative and by the Bronx River Alliance.

David Shuffler, executive director of Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice says his organization will work with Schacter and Levi. Linda Cox, executive director of the Bronx River Alliance, said she is “delighted” to work with the architects on the project.

Completed in 1908, the Westchester Avenue train station served both the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad and the New York, which stopped using it in 1931, and the Westchester & Boston Railway, which ceased operations in 1937.

Gilbert added a trademark touch to the train station: like the Woolworth Building, built five years later, it is decorated with glazed terra-cotta tiles. The station is now on the New York City Landmarks Conservancy’s Endangered Buildings List.

The grant gives The Bronx Right of Way project two years to complete the study. But coming up with a design is only the beginning, Cox emphasized. Amtrak owns the building and has made it clear that it won’t spend its money on renovation. A survey conducted by Youth Ministries and the Pratt Center with the help of a specialist in restoration found the cost would be high.

“We all recognize that it is a complex and uncertain process to put it back into use in a way that serves the community and the park,” said Cox.

She added, “It’s such an intriguing building.”

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