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Old train station gets new life

January 09, 2002

Old train station gets new life



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Richard Klein's new office is along bustling King Street, and each car that passes by the newly renovated train station is a constant reminder.

"Thump, thump."

"Thump, thump," as the cars cross the single set of Winchester and Western Railroad lines outside the building that now houses his architectural design company, Alpha Associates.

Klein never flinches as he carries on a conversation in his corner office outside the intersection.

For the Martinsburg civil engineer, working out of a building that once served as a bustling train station in Martinsburg for five decades is just one way of living out his love for trains.

A collection of photographs illustrating the building's past hangs in a conference room, and in a smaller room, Klein has set up a model railroad scene that uses the same type of freight cars that still chug past the station on a regular basis.

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Klein began his attempt to acquire the old train station at 535 W. King St. in 1999.

He would regularly pass by the station in his travels and found it intriguing.

The train station was built in 1889 to serve the expanding freight train and passenger train service in Martinsburg. The station operated until the late 1940s or early 1950s, Klein said. It also once served as a fabric shop.

"You hate to see a building fall down. And I'm a firm believer that there are numerous buildings in Martinsburg and other cities that can be adaptably reused," said Klein.

Klein figures his company saved the train station just in time.

It is not clear why, but an interior load-bearing wall in the train station had been removed at some point over the years. The roof had sagged and the exterior walls on the second floor were beginning to bow out, Klein said.

Hoboes had crawled into the basement, and Klein said debris including boxes, clothes and bottles were still in the building when his company purchased it.

"It's lucky it didn't burn down," Klein said.

Acquiring the building was almost as challenging as saving it, said Klein.

He said it took him six months of discussions to get Winchester and Western Railroad officials interested in selling the building and another six months to negotiate a deal.

Finding the boundaries of the property was also difficult. Klein said his company had to dig through records dating back to 1899 to determine the meets and bounds of the lot.

"The railroads just don't get rid of property usually," he said.

A year ago, the work began.

To stop the building from buckling any further, a reinforced concrete floor was poured in the basement, Klein said. Beams were extended from the basement up through the building to the roof to give it support, and the second floor was jacked up to straighten the building, Klein said.

Alpha Associates drew up the renovation designs and Minghini's General Contractors was hired to do the reconstruction.

What resulted was an attractive professional building that retained the architectural highlights of the building from the days when Martinsburg residents crowded into the train station for a trip out of town.

The building's Richardsonian architecture is characterized by its arched windows. Wainscoting, typical of many 19th and 20th century buildings in the Eastern Panhandle, is evident in the rooms as is a blond-colored hardwood floor.

Rooms that once served as waiting areas, the station manager's office and Federal Express office are now used for conference areas, drafting and design areas and an office for Klein, who is chairman and chief executive officer for Alpha Associates.

Outside, a new red brick walkway, the same type that was constructed for the building in 1889, was put down.

On Oct. 19, Alpha Associates held a grand opening for its new home. To commemorate the moment, the Winchester and Western Railroad sent up a train to be parked outside the station.

"I think it's great. It certainly adds to the downtown area," said Martinsburg Mayor George Karos.

Ever since Benson Fogle bought the old Gateway Hotel on Queen Street downtown and began restoring it, it seems there has been a heightened interest in renovating historic buildings downtown, Karos said.

Klein said the increasing interest in making Martinsburg a destination is marked by the massive effort to renovate the B&O railroad roundhouse of East Martin Street, and other efforts to transform old buildings.

Klein said Martinsburg reminds him of Cape May, the popular New Jersey port town that is known for its wealth of Victorian architecture.

"Martinsburg has just as pretty buildings as that city has. It just hasn't gone that far," said Klein.

"I think downtown Martinsburg is on the verge of a complete re-birth. It just takes some creative thinking," said Klein.

Alpha Associates, which designs roads, bridges, schools, housing developments and other projects, employees nine people in the building.

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