READING, Pa. - Passenger trains may not be running through downtown Reading again, but the station that thousands once passed through on their way to and from those trains has been reborn.
Dozens of invited guests gathered Friday afternoon as BARTA rededicated the refurbished Franklin Street Station on South 7th Street.
"My fondest memory was when I was real small, about 4- or 5-years-old, we would get on the train on Saturdays or Sundays and go down to Upper Darby to visit my Aunt Edie with my family," said Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt, D-Berks Co. "It was really a wonderful experience not to have to drive in a car."
The Reading Company's old train depot, which hasn't serviced travelers since 1981, will soon be bustling again with BARTA bus riders.
"This is the last vestige. This was the focal point of the Reading Railroad, but as important as it is restore the building, I didn't build a museum. This is going to be a functioning transportation center," said Dennis Louwerse, BARTA's executive director and CEO.
BARTA acquired the station from the city for just $1 in 2005 with the goals of refurbishing it to its former glory and allowing the transit agency to expand service in Berks County.
Much of the building's history remains intact, including the original tall windows, terra-cotta walls and terrazzo floors.
"This building in 1930 cost $500,000. Today, you couldn't build that floor for $500,000 alone," said Louwerse.
Items that couldn't be preserved, like the long, passenger benches and light fixtures, were recreated to mirror the original items as closely as possible, said Louwerse.
"If you would have been here prior to the reconstruction, you would have never thought they could actually rebuild or restore it to its beauty today. It looked like a total wreck," Barnhardt said.
Modern elements have also been added to the 83-year-old building, including air conditioning, dozens of security cameras, a fire suppression system and glass vestibules around the doorways to control the indoor climate.
The BARTA Transportation Center, located within a block of the Franklin Street Station, is already near capacity with approximately 40 buses passing through it each hour, Louwerse said. The station will allow the agency to add more service, including a planned route to the Berks Park 78 industrial complex in Bethel Township.
The restoration, started in November 2011, was funded by approximately $5 million in state and federal grants and about $200,000 from BARTA, officials said.
"Didn't we do a great job, really? Isn't this wonderful?," Louwerse asked the audience. "It's great. I could never ask for it to be any better, really."
BARTA will hold two open houses for the public before the station opens for business. The first will be Saturday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.; the second will be Monday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Allentown, PA 18102