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Texas | Architecture | Depots

San Antonio's Historic
I&GN/MoPac Depot

San Antonio, Texas

Text & Photos by Terry Jeanson
October 12, 2011 Update
Subject: Update on San Antonio's Historic I&GN/MoPac Depot

I have some interesting news regarding the former International and Great Northern Depot in San Antonio. Apparently, the property has been acquired by VIA transit, and will be the site of a large transit center, consisting of an AMTRAK/ Commuter station (historic depot building), bus, rapid bus, light rail and streetcar. This is essentially bringing the station back to being used as a rail station! The neighborhood the station is in was known historically as Cattleman's Square, due to it's proximity to the former Union Stockyards. Few people in San Antonio know that information, because the area has been largely ignored and has become dilapidated. The whole area will be revitalized over the next decade due to the station being brought back to life. This is a link to the publicly available executing summary presentation. Looks promising! http://www.viainfo.net/Shared/ViewAttachment.aspx?AttachmentId=1550
As always, I love the site. Keep up the great work!
- Sam Iacullo, San Antonio
Over the years, I have heard stories that my mother told me about the times when she worked as a secretary at the Scobey's warehouse on the west side of San Antonio next to what is now the Union Pacific Railroad. She worked there during the 1950s and by then, the old International and Great Northern (or I&GN) Depot, later known as the Missouri Pacific Depot (or MoPac,) which is just south of the Scobey's warehouse, was no longer bustling with passenger activity as it had once been. Being a bit west of downtown and not having many options for lunch, my mother took advantage of the former lunch counter in the old depot on many occasions. Her memories of these times inspired me to explore the old depot which has been a part of San Antonio history for over 100 years.
San Antonio's Historic International and Great Northern Depot old photo
"This photo showing the depot shortly after it was built is hanging in one of the upstairs offices." - Terry Jeanson, September, 2008
After the arrival of the I&GN Railroad in 1881, San Antonio became an important crossroads for train travel across the state and the railroad soon outgrew their first depot. Constructed in a grand fashion in 1907 and completed in 1908, the new depot was built at the intersection of Houston and Medina streets in an area historically known as the Cattlemen's Square. The architect, Harvey L. Page, whose main office was on Medina Street, was greatly influenced by the architecture of San Antonio's Spanish missions, in particular the San Josť Mission. The stained glass windows on the north, south and east sides are representative of San Josť's "Rose Window" with the I&GN logo inside them. Page referred to this building as his "Taj Mahal." The building's copper dome rises eighty-eight feet from the ground and is topped with a bronze statue of an Indian shooting an arrow towards the northeast, but I don't if there is any significance to the direction. The interior has a domed ceiling with arches between large columns around the rotunda. The north side staircase has a large stained glass window entitled "Two Indians at the River" with one of the Indians in the window pointing in the same direction as the Indian on top of the dome.
San Antonio TX I&GN MoPac Depot
The front side entrance on the south end.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, September, 2008
San Antonio TX I&GN MoPac Depot copper dome
Southeast corner detail. The design of the building was inspired by San Antonio's Spanish missions. - Terry Jeanson, September, 2008 photo
San Antonio TX I&GN MoPac Depot rose window
The restored window over the east side entrance. Designed to reflect the "Rose Window" at the San Josť Mission, it is identical to the windows over the north and south side entrances. Given the opportunity to place their company logo inside the windows during the restoration, the credit union decided instead to have the original windows recreated. - Terry Jeanson, September, 2008 photo
San Antonio TX I&GN MoPac Depot staircase & stained glass window
The north side staircase with the stained glass window of "Two Indians at the River." The window is approximately 22 feet high and 10 feet wide. The center banister on the staircase was a later addition built for safety reasons. - Terry Jeanson, September, 2008 photo
San Antonio TX I&GN MoPac Depot stained glass window
The recreated staircase window. The colors were matched by collecting shards of the broken glass from the interior of the depot during its restoration. - Terry Jeanson, September, 2008 photo
The New Orleans, Texas and Mexican Railroad Company (an affiliate of MoPac) bought the I&GN rail line in 1924 and then MoPac made an outright purchase in 1925. By the 1930s, the building was then known as the MoPac Depot. Even before World War II, passenger train service at the MoPac Depot was in decline. Improved roads, affordable cars and the airline industry drained away the customers. MoPac finally sold the building in 1970. Several efforts to turn the building into other things, like a library, a museum, a restaurant and a center for the Veteran's Administration, all failed. Meanwhile, the building fell into decay. The copper and brass from the dome was stripped away by scavengers, leaving the interior exposed to the weather. Nearly all of the building's windows, including the decorative stained glass windows, were broken out. Vagrants took to living in the building, starting at least one destructive fire during their stay. The plaster on the interior columns was cracked and destroyed and termites attacked just about all of the wooden furnishings. The final degradation was the theft of the Indian statue on top of the dome in 1982. He was found soon afterwards in an abandoned railroad yard near the station with a broken bow, missing right leg and head-feathers, a damaged posterior and multiple holes, courtesy of a BB gun.

In 1985, the San Antonio City Employees Federal Credit Union was about to purchase a new building only a few blocks away when city officials approached them about using the old depot. When it was determined that the old depot would suit their needs and not exceed their budget, the credit union purchased the building. Receiving no funding or grants, the credit union could have restored the building any way that they wanted, but they decided to maintain the building's historical integrity and restore as much as they could to the original condition, but at the same time turning it into a functional banking headquarters. All of the stained glass windows were restored by using photographs and shards of the broken glass found inside the building as a reference. An addition was placed on the west side of the building where the railroad tracks run, but it was built to match the brick of the original structure. The bronze Indian statue, which was kept in storage after its abduction and subsequent rescue, was also restored and returned to its position on top of the dome. The restoration was begun in 1987 and completed in 1988. At $3.1 million, the restoration came in under budget and was less than the purchase of the aforementioned new building.
San Antonio TX I&GN MoPac Depot indian
Close up of the Indian on top of the dome. The repair work done on the right leg is evident. - Terry Jeanson, September, 2008 photo. More Texas Statues
San Antonio's Historic International and Great Northern Depot
East side entrance of the depot facing the Houston and Medina Street intersection. - Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, September, 2008
San Antonio TX I&GN MoPac Depot stained glass window
The interior of the south side stained glass window with the I&GN logo. On a sunny afternoon, the logo is reflected on the inner walls of the building. - Terry Jeanson, September, 2008 photo
San Antonio TX I&GN MoPac Depot dome interior
The interior of the building's dome.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, September, 2008
The old depot is now home to Generations Federal Credit Union and the railroad is still used to haul freight. During my visit, my tour guide Arlene escorted me around the building. (Because this building is a financial institution, interior pictures can only be taken with a guide present.) She has enormous pride for the fact that the building was able to be saved and rehabilitated and is well versed in the building's history, but she admitted that the credit union may be selling the building soon in order to move to a location with more space. The neighborhood is rather run down and, according to my mother, was run down even in her day. It is in need of a major revitalization. Arlene indicated that any future owner of the old depot would have to agree to be responsible for maintaining the building's historical integrity. Another employee I talked to during my visit has been working there for about twenty years. She was telling me how she would miss working there if the building was sold and that she sometimes took the historic building for granted. After briefly working at a different branch of the credit union which is in a modern style building, she gained a new appreciation for the old depot upon her return.

Since the old depot is on the western end of downtown, it is a little off the beaten path. Arlene said that most of the tourists she encounters are either lost or there for a specific reason, as I was that day. Arlene says that these "accidental tourists" are so taken with the beauty of the building that they are encouraged to find out more about it. It is easy to see why. Not only has the building been a San Antonio landmark for over a century, but it has been a part of people's lives.
San Antonio TX I&GN MoPac Depot cornerstone
Cornerstone to the old depot
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, September 2008
More Texas Cornerstones
San Antonio TX I&GN MoPac Depot ticket counter old photo
"This picture of the original ticket counter is hanging in one of the upstairs offices at the old depot. My mother said that the former lunch counter was just to the left of the ticket counter." - Terry Jeanson, September, 2008
San Antonio TX I&GN MoPac Depot ticket counter
"The ticket counter is now the bank tellers counter. My guide told me that the original fresco that was over the ticket counter windows was one of the things that could not be restored." - Terry Jeanson, September, 2008 photo
San Antonio TX IGN Mo Pac Depot Painting
"This print of a watercolor painting by (?) Atkinson (first name was not legible) is hanging outside the east side conference room on the upper floor. My guide said the artist used old postcard pictures of the depot as a reference." - Terry Jeanson, September, 2008
San Antonio TX I&GN MoPac Depot postcard showing Indian statue
Old postcard of the I&GN Depot
Courtesy rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
More Texas Depots | Texas Towns | See San Antonio, Texas
Source:
The Texas Transportation Museum website at http://www.txtransportationmuseum.org/IGN.htm,
San Antonio Uncovered by Mark Louis Rybczyk and
Arlene Gauthier, Product Marketing Coordinator for Generations Federal Credit Union.

Copyright Terry Jeanson
October 1, 2008

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