Secret architecture makes Santa Fe Station possible as Oklahoma City's downtown transportation hub

The plans for the downtown Santa Fe station, along the elevated railway near the intersection of E.K. Gaylord and Sheridan, show the mystery that probably hundreds of passengers walk past and never see.

Intermodal hub
Bring in the experts

Link to the drawing of the subway

Anyone riding the Heartland Flyer's daily service to Ft. Worth, Texas, enters the main entrance to the Santa Fe station, its gray stone exterior looking like something out of a Humphrey Bogart movie.

Once inside, ticket in hand, they walk past the recently re-done waiting room to a stairwell, where stone steps lead upward to an open-air concrete landing. That's where the Flyer lets off and takes on passengers. Some visitors, handicapped or not, use an elevator across from that stairwell to rise effortlessly to the upper landing.

These passengers never see the mystery" it's called the "subway." A corridor now blocked off that extends under the rail line almost all the way to Bricktown, according to a Santa Fe passenger station plot plan circa 1934.

Bob Kemper, director of the Oklahoma Rail Solutions consultant group, located the drawing about a decade ago.

See the full drawing here

"I remember talking with some oldtimers that said it (Santa Fe station) had what they called a 'subway' that went through there and that kind of intrigued me," Kemper said, noting the area is filled with sand.

Intermodal hub

Mass transportation advocate Jeff Bezdek, director of the Modern Transit Project, which lobbied hard in MAPS 3 for a downtown streetcar, said he thinks the Santa Fe station is perfect for what will be called the Intermodal Hub, an all-purpose bus stop, train station, streetcar station, Amtrak station and commuter rail station.

The hub was budgeted as part of the $130 million MAPS 3 transit dollars.

"The Santa Fe is large enough to accommodate various kinds of transit that we hope to have in the future, and it couldn't be in a better location geographically," he said. "It's a central location to nearly all the hotels. Because of its location, it benefits not just the central business location, but "¦ Bricktown as well."

It's the possible stairwell, however, that puts the station over the top in terms of the hub, Bezdek said. The subway can be easily extended to Bricktown, linking the entertainment district to the MAPS 3 project.

Like has been done with the west stairwell that everyone can see and use today, he said the hidden one could be upgraded to federal disabled access requirements.

"Oklahoma City has an unfortunate past when it comes to preserving such structures. Whenever you find drawings like this to indicate a facility can be not just re-purposed, but reused in its original context, it's exciting. It can (be) reused in a stunning way," he said.

Bring in the experts

Mayor Mick Cornett said he'd seen the plans, but cautioned that the study for the proposed intermodal hub hasn't yet been begun.

"Certainly, the idea of resurrecting that art deco station would be a great opportunity for us, but we need to know exactly what roadblocks might come in making that a reality. The location is very, very important," Cornett said. "Whatever we choose is going to affect public transportation for generations to come. I can't impress enough that I and the council don't start prejudging where we think the best place is. Let's let the study come in and then look at it objectively."

Cornett said the Santa Fe station isn't the only possible location for the intermodal hub, which has a $10 million price tag. Just north of Bricktown, the site of the proposed commuter rail line to Midwest City joins the rail bed of the north-south Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks, as does a similar easement for a commuter rail to areas north, including Edmond.

"There are probably several places along that north-south corridor that it could be placed," Cornett said. "We need to look at it. There are east-west lines coming in north of the Santa Fe station. There is city property with some parking lots that are north of Bricktown over there. That deserves due consideration, too. That's why they are bringing in the experts."

Doug Rex, division director of transportation planning and data services with the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments, or ACOG, also cautioned that the intermodal hub study has yet to be undertaken.

"I would assume that, certainly, locations along the BNSF N-S line should certainly be evaluated. One of those obviously would be Santa Fe station, yes," Rex said.

However, the Santa Fe has more than one booster. One is the station's owner, Brent Brewer, son of late developer Jim Brewer, credited with much of the work on Bricktown's renaissance. Brent Brewer said the station is in a perfect location to service Bricktown patrons.

"If the tunnel were to be opened up to connect with Bricktown, it's amazing that it lines up directly with the Bricktown Canal, almost as if it were designed that way," he said. "Ben Fenwick | Photo by Shannon Cornman