Posted by vp19 on 2014.09.06 at 09:13
Current mood: nostalgic
Shown on a train in New York in 1935, Carole Lombard visited many a rail station during her brief life, from arriving at Washington’s Union Station with husband Clark Gable in December 1940 to leaving the Los Angeles facility of the same name in January 1942 for what would be a final departure from her adopted hometown.
Now, a station that likely played a key role in Lombard’s life has been upgraded for its centennial. We’re referring to the Baker Street Station in her first hometown, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
It almost certainly was from here that 6-year-old Jane Alice Peters, her mother and two brothers embarked from Fort Wayne in late 1914 for a new life in California. At that time, it was a spanking new building, housing both the Wabash Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad, having opened for business that March 23 as 10,000 people visited, possibly including the Peters family themselves.
Architecturally, it was true to its time period — built in American Craftsman style but also featuring some classical traditions, according to Jaclyn Goldsborough of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. “The cruciform structure blends a mixture of classical and medieval elements including large arched windows, a barrel-vaulted concourse, elaborately buttressed corners, parapeted gables, terrazzo and green-veined marble flooring, oak woodwork and bronze electrolier lamps.”
Unless there was a trip east from California that Lombard biographers know nothing about, Carole’s next visit to Fort Wayne (and the Baker Street Station) didn’t come until June 1930, when she and her mother, Elizabeth Peters, came to town for a few days. By then, Lombard — headed on to New York to work on “Fast And Loose” in Paramount’s Astoria studios — possessed a new acting name, had been the female lead in several features and was treated as local girl makes good. (Her mother made a side trip to Fort Wayne in January 1942 to see friends, shortly before rejoining Lombard in Indianapolis for the fateful war bond rally.)
Goldsborough wrote a wonderful feature on the station (http://www.news-sentinel.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140902/NEWS/140829587), although her story gives the incorrect impression that Lombard and second husband Clark Gable visited the station together. It’s entirely possible Gable rode through or stopped at the station sometime during his life; many celebrities did. In fact, in May 1929, bandleader Paul Whiteman and his orchestra, on their way to Hollywood to make the film “King Of Jazz,” gave a concert in the concourse, including “Mean To Me” sung by his then-relatively unknown vocalist, Bing Crosby.
At least three current or future presidents held rallies at the station — Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944…
…Harry S Truman in 1948…
…and Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952:
Even Albert Einstein passed through Fort Wayne in 1931, although he remained in the rail car during his stop:
However, rail service gradually fell out of favor following World War II, and the Pennsylvania Railroad’s passenger trains were absorbed into Amtrak in 1971. By then, the station had declined as well.
In November 1990, Amtrak re-routed its service some 25 miles north to Waterloo, Ind. — and the main reason was the station’s condition, not its ridership.
Baker Street Station continued its deterioration into the ’90s, and by early 1996 the city — which now owned the structure — had two permits to demolish the station. It was in dire need of a hero, and got one in Vic Martin of Martin Riley, a local architecture and engineering firm who spent much time in the station during his youth.
On May 9, 1996, Martin purchased the building, which by then had no electricity, heat or sewer service. Those soon were added, and six months later — aided by an array of volunteers — Martin Riley moved into the structure. Subsequently, the concourse was restored, and other vintage touches such as clocks and reproductions of brass plating have been added.
Baker Street Station is now on the National Register of Historic Places, and also is used for banquets, weddings and other events. Aside from the removal of seats in the concourse and the lack of train service, it has much the same ambiance as when a youthful Jane Alice Peters bid adieu to Fort Wayne a century ago and an up-and-coming Carole Lombard returned home in 1930. And who knows — perhaps someday, rail service will return, too.
Here’s a three-minute video on the station and its history: